Disclaimer: All characters, places, etc. are property of SquareEnix. I simply own the plot.
Formalities Be Damned
Steiner stood rigidly in his post just left to the door, a solemn expression covering his face as he watched the people around him. There must have been hundreds of nobles milling about, all packed into the large ballroom and practically running over each other as Alexandria celebrated in the triumph of their restored kingdom. And what a celebration it was. Still, the poor Captain couldn't help but feel like a sardine packed into a can- no pun intended, of course. And it was with unfortunate timing that at the exact moment somebody bumped into him knocking him off balance, his less-than shiny helmet slightly askew upon his head. He scowled at the offending noble- a rather large woman with a double set of chins- and straightened his helmet once more. Truth be told, he really hated these types of get-togethers.
His scrunched eyes scanned the dance floor; the Queen and her escort- Zidane, respectfully- stood swarmed by several nobles at the far end of the room, no doubt talking politics of some sort. The ex-thief seemed genuinely bored out of his mind and Steiner noted that his Queen wasn't looking much better. Turning his gaze over the rest of the room he spotted several more familiar faces amongst the crowd; Regent Cid and his wife waltzed across the dance floor gracefully, Freya conversing with several delegates from Burmecia, Vivi assisting young Eiko at the punchbowl, Amarant glumly hiding so far into the corner as if trying to become one with the stone walls and of course, Quina bringing up the rear, who was practically testing every item of food on the buffet tables. And much to Steiner's horror and disgust, the Qu was seemingly spitting every type of hor' dourve that did not please the palate onto the floor. The Captain shuddered at the sight and made a face before sweeping his gaze across the large room once more, his eyes finally falling on a target worthy of watching.
There she stood, across the room leaning against the wall, a very bored expression on her face. She seemed oblivious to the majority of her surroundings- her attention mainly focused on the Queen- obviously, for she had yet to notice that she was being watched. And so he watched, uncaught and very proud of this accomplishment. Seeing as how the opportunity had found him, he took the time to ponder on some things that had settled on his mind as late: mainly, her. Many things had happened and the slow reconstruction of Alexandria and Garnet's ascension to the throne had bridged the span between them, ultimately bringing them closer. But only slightly. Her stout devotion to her duty obviously still came first, regardless of the past occurring events. She was just as stubborn and hot-headed as ever, though Steiner would never admit to anyone that those particular traits, somehow turned him on. He wouldn't really say that their relationship- if thats what it could be called- was a secret, hidden from all eyes but their own, but it was a rocky one and not publicly displayed in any manner. Such could be chalked up to her duty. And despite the fact the feelings were there, she was still somewhat privy on expressing them. It seemed to him that no amount of encouragement or reassurance from his part was helping in the matter any at all; so he just gave up. Eventually the evening patrols, the looks and the silent promises quit all together.
Steiner slumped forward at the mental conclusion. It seemed he was just out of luck in the love department. Her devotion to her duty and her formalities were too much for one man to take. If only she would lower the duty standard a bit, then maybe she could see... He shook the wayward thought from his head and turned his gaze elsewhere but it did nothing for easing the anger rising to the surface. Damn stubborn woman, damn her and her formalities. From the corner of his eye he caught a flash of blue and turned to see the Queen- hand gripped firmly in the grasp of the ex-thief too nonetheless- shuffling along to welcome another group of nobles. A hint of a smile crested his face as he watched the couple. Both from completely different worlds, yet still able to live in harmony despite their backgrounds; the Queen knew where her duty and formalities lied, yes, yet it didn't stop her from being happy. And she was happy with Zidane. Steiner balled his hands into fists as the dejection and anger surfaced once more. Surely if the Queen could be happy and still play her part, then why couldn't they? He slammed a fist into the stone wall, his gaze set on his target and his mind made up.
Formalities be damned, as they pretty much went to hell in a handbag as he stormed across the floor in her direction, closing the expanse that momentarily separated them.
She never was one for such grand festivities and she had to admit, this particular one surely took first place in her book as a waste of time. But, it was for a good cause. She tossed her hair over her shoulder, sheer boredom finally having set in as she continued watching the mass of bodies crawling all over the place. Somewhere from her right she heard a slight commotion and instantly sensed someone approaching her and rather hastily. She frowned when she saw exactly who it was. Blast, what now...? There hadn't been anything between them for months now. She wouldn't really say she was heartbroken, yet she wasn't really happy either- things just happened the way they did. She began pondering exactly what was so important that he just had to leave his post and venture her way, however when he finally got to her, she didn't have time to question him as he immediately grasped her hand and drug her towards the middle of the dance floor.
Perhaps it wasn't a smart move on his part, but it was too late now. He spared her a glance from over his shoulder, dully noting that she was anything but happy at the moment with his little charade. And then it came, like a river bursting through a damn and destroying everything in its path.
With a threatening tone that would scare any man she questioned him, "What are you doing, Captain?" Uh... nope, that wasn't the right tone. It was obvious by the way he ignored her and continued pulling her through the jumbled bodies on the floor. Now he had done it.
"Steiner!" Yep, that was the tone, for sure, the one that made the knight stop in his tracks- even if it was for only a moment because he simply shrugged his shoulders in response and kept on going.
Oh, he is a dead man... needless to say, she was quickly growing tired of his game and tried wresting her hand from his tight grip only to come out unsuccessful. For such a bumbling idiot in an iron suit, he was surprisingly strong. "Unhand me this instant you... over-sized aluminum can!"
The supposed insult caught him completely off guard as he turned to face her, not the least bit fazed as he quipped, "Why General, such words are unbecoming of a Lady."
"If you don't unhand me right now, then you'll see just how unbecoming a lady I can be!"
Well, that certainly wasn't a response he was expecting and he canted his head to smirk at her and she could just see the mirth twinkling in his dark eyes as he scolded her teasingly, "One would think such things like that are best done behind closed doors."
Why you little... ohhh, I could just throttle him! She yanked her arm back in protest, the horrified expression on her face reaction enough to his comment and he allowed himself a silent chuckle as he watched her face turn several shades of red ranging from embarrassed red to severely ticked off red. And other than the fact that he was asking for trouble, he had to admit that she was positively beautiful when she was downright angry.
"Listen hear you overgrown pompous piece of scrap metal-" her rant was cut short as Steiner interrupted her with a cluck of his tongue.
"Lady Beatrix, your words are like daggers to my heart."
From the far side of the room Zidane craned his neck to see what the slight disturbance among the nobles were and nearly choked as he caught sight of Steiner dragging a less than willing Beatrix to the middle of the floor despite her protests and threats to various parts of his anatomy and himself in general. Intrigued by the scene, he gently nudged Garnet, the action causing her to look up at him with annoyance etched on her face.
Ignoring the glare he was receiving from not only her but the surrounding nobles as well he stated, "Hey look, it seems like Rusty's making his move."
Garnet stood on her tip-toes to see over the crowd. "Oh my! Well, its about time," she finally managed after several moments of silence. "Even if he is going about it the wrong way."
"Psh," Zidane scoffed at her over-observant remark and rolled his eyes. "At least he's doing something about it!" He glanced at her from the corner of his eye to see her reaction. When he got none in response he cupped his hands to his face before shouting possibly the world's most infamous last words of encouragement that somehow came in the less-than-proper call of, "Way to go Steiner!"
As she was being drug to the dance floor, Beatrix became alarmingly aware of the yell that was slung in her and Steiner's direction and turned to see Zidane and Queen Garnet watching them from afar- and safely too, she noted- their grins and expressions of approval plastered on their eager faces.
That's it! she swore silently under her breath. Queen and escort or not, they are all so dead when this is over.
Her thoughts of revenge were cut short as Steiner abruptly stopped and spun around to face her. Glaring at him, she silently dared him to come any closer, her lips drawn in a frown as she stared him down. Ironic how, she must be losing her touch as he ignored her death glare and stepped closer, his hands gently taking up their rightful positions in accordance to the dance. She was tense and most likely still very much ticked off as he quirked an eyebrow at her from beneath his helmet.
"You really should learn to relax a bit Beatrix," he informed as the music began and he took his lead.
"That's General to you," she snapped, her tone of voice cold and emotionless. "And I will relax, just as soon as you unhand me and I've hung you from the highest tower ridgepole in the kingdom!"
A small flicker of pained sadness crossed his face in a fleeting second, yet it only took the second for Beatrix to witness it. He remained silent as he lead her across the floor, her steps matching his despite that she had protested so vehemently. When he failed to say anything after several long moments, she decided to break the silence.
"Why are you doing this?"
He gave her an innocent look that was anything but, before simply stating, "Can't I dance with a beautiful lady such as yourself?"
"Flattery will get you no where," Beatrix replied, her chin tilting up with her response.
They continued several more steps around the floor in time with the music, both dancers remaining quiet in their awkward position. It seemed like forever that the silence between them carried on and Beatrix was beginning to wonder if maybe she had struck a sensitive nerve underneath Steiner's heavy armor. When she had debated long enough and decided to be the one to break the uncomfortable silence, he beat her to it.
"Alright look," he started, his expression one of nervousness and uncertainty. "The truth of why I'm doing this is because-"
"Don't." Her voice was heavily laced with hints of regret and sadness. The request was just short of begging and she took the opportunity to quickly add, "We both agreed that this was the best way."
If ever there was a time Beatrix thought a simple statement coming from her could hurt so deeply, it was now. Regardless of the hurt that her callous words had caused, Steiner continued leading her across the floor, albeit his tender grip on her had loosen. Always one to be a gentleman. She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised when he suddenly spoke up.
"No, you decided," his normal baritone voice was oddly gentle and filled with remorse. He had kept quiet for far too long; now it was her turn to listen to him. "I never agreed to anything. I never wanted this..." he trailed off in thought, searching for the right word. "This separation. Have you so easily forgotten that night at the harbor?"
"But you didn't write that letter!" She tensed at the mention of the event- probably one of the most exciting things to have ever happened to her- and she shook her head as she remembered every detail.
Steiner looked thoughtful for a moment at her outburst, a sad smile crossing his features as he softly questioned, "And if I had, would you feel any differently than you do now?" He paused mid-thought and looked down at her noting that she had turned away from him, her blank gaze avoiding his own. "You're right," he agreed. "I didn't write that letter, but still, the feelings are there all the same. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
Beatrix's head whipped around to glare at him. She opened her mouth to make a retort but suddenly found that she couldn't quite go through with it. Instead she held her tongue and bit her lip at the same time before finally managing a shaky reply. "No." She breathed the word with great care and closed her eyes to avoid seeing the knight's pained expression. She felt him change his lead and tilted her head back to look up at him, her glazed eyes opening slowly. "The only thing that matters is my duty. We both have a duty to the Queen Steiner, not a duty to our personal lives."
She noticed him flick his eyes past her, obviously staring at something behind her that she could not see and for a brief moment she caught the barest hint of a smile flash across his facial features. "Hmm, I think our Queen would beg to differ."
"Well it's not the Queen's difference to beg!" she snapped back, dark eyes flashing angrily at his tactics. Steiner grimaced at her brash behavior but kept his peace just the same. She hadn't meant to come off so rudely and attempted to apologize in some manner to him only to have him wave her off nonchalantly. Slouching in defeat Beatrix remained quiet, her eyes downcast to the floor. She felt Steiner tighten his grip on her, the action causing her to relax a bit in his embrace, and for one brief moment she found herself lost in the dance, her mind savoring the comfort of his closeness. How long had it been since he held her like? Too long...
The soft whisper of her name on Steiner's lips did little to snap her out of her reverie and she soon felt a calloused hand tenderly hook her chin and tilt her face upwards, her curious eyes shadowed with uncertainty.
Well, Steiner coaxed himself, It's now or never. And throwing caution to the wind, he dipped his head towards her.
From amongst the throng of guests, somewhere towards the center of the dance floor, a resounding SMACK reverberated off the castle walls causing Zidane's head to whip around to find the source.
There in the middle of the parting sea of nobles stood Steiner, a hand deftly pressed against one side of his flushed face as he watched a figure storm off in the direction of the door. Beatrix. Quirking an eyebrow as his mind ran through possible scenarios he let out an amused chuckle and shook his head. He will never learn. Oh well, guess some things never change.
Years later when asked about what happened next and why she did what she had done, she wouldn't have an answer then, the same as she didn't have one now; but she had a pretty good guess.
As Beatrix stormed from the room leaving Steiner standing alone, a hand firmly pressed to his throbbing cheek- his just reward for having kissed her!- she felt his questioning eyes on her retreating form and paused long enough to glance at him from over her shoulder. Seeing him standing there with that same dazed look upon his face she was so accustomed to seeing, she couldn't help but smile at him in spite of herself. And so she did.
Despite that she was fairly well hidden among the huge mass of entangled nobles, Steiner caught her expression: a smile. To any ordinary person it was just a smile, but to him, it was the smile, the same she used to grace him with when no one was watching.
Formalities be damned indeed, he concluded as he rubbed his sore cheek. He smiled in return and watched her figure disappear among the crowd. Perhaps there is still hope yet.
Author's Corner: Certain ideas are like diseased leaches to one's brain, I swear it. Anyhow, this was originally plotted as more of a humor fic, but as you can see, it seriously veered off the path. Not really fluffy, but I guess it'll serve its purpose... for now.