This is a gift fic for Kelaiah. I wrote it partially to thank him for doing something similar for LittlePsychoWolf and me earlier (a fic entitled Popular, which you should go read right now), and partially to thank him for being patient with me in co-writing The Return (which you should also go read right now). I chose this song because it seems to be a favorite of his, and because it matches the situation in Return so well.

However, this fic does contain some spoilers for The Return; so, if you don't want to have anything spoiled for you, do not read any further than the bold text you see here. Although, frankly, the spoilers aren't that big; I've messed with the settings quite a bit just to get them to fit the song. The story will actually be somewhat different than this fic describes.

Well, here you are, Kel. I hope you like it. Thank you very much for being a good friend and co-writer.

***

Mariel Gullwhacker, Dandin Swordcarrier, and Bowly Pintips had just led a victorious campaign against a threatening band of raiders, and Redwall welcomed its favorite heroes back once more with open arms. There was much cheering, slapping of backs, and general merrymaking amongst all the Abbeydwellers...except for one lone mousemaid, who was oddly quiet, even for her standards.

Nona tried to be happy, tried to smile when Bowly came up to her with a grin on his face, but her heart was not in it. Her eyes were on Mariel, the maiden of the hour. In her heart of hearts, Nona knew that Mariel deserved her congratulations, for she had fought hard and well to defend the Abbey…but still, for some reason, she couldn't stand to see the other mousemaid get so much attention.

Small town homecoming queen,
She's the star in this scene,
There no way to deny she's lovely.

Perfect skin, perfect hair,
Perfumed hearts everywhere,
Tell myself that inside she's ugly.

Against her better judgment, the fieldmouse-maid mentally compared her looks to Mariel's. Mariel's fur was unkempt, since she had just returned from a battle. But Nona had seen her fur when it was clean, and it was soft brown that gleamed in the candlelight, next to which Nona's own brownish-blonde fur seemed coarse and frizzy. Mariel's eyes were a lusciously deep brown, with sight that was keener than the average; Nona's unassuming grey-blue eyes seemed to fade behind unbearably thick glasses. Mariel did not hide in the crowd, scared to interact with so many beasts at once like Nona…no, she was in her element, laughing and joking and telling stories like she hadn't a care in the world. And she probably didn't have a care in the world; she was a portrait of warlike confidence with every word and gesture.

Most likely, everybeast else would disagree with her, but at that moment, Nona thought Mariel was perfect, and it pained her.

Maybe I'm just jealous,
I can't help but hate her,
Secretly I wonder if my boyfriend wants to date her.

It didn't help that Dandin was standing so near to Mariel, practically shoulder-to-shoulder. Nona had spoken with him before he left, telling him to be careful. She was sure her feelings had been quite obvious to him – she tended to be fairly expressive in her own quiet way – and he had seemed to reciprocate those feelings to a small degree. Yet, now, all of his smiles were for Mariel, and there was a look of pure adoration in his eyes whenever their eyes met. And who could blame him? Mariel was so strong, so adventurous, so pretty, so independent…

She is the prom queen,
I'm in the marching band.
She is a cheerleader,
I'm sitting in the stands.

Nona watched the scene silently, secretly seething. Here she was, completely infatuated with Dandin, but he did not know she existed. Instead, he was in love with some maid who did not need him, who only treated him like a friend when he deserved so much more. It wasn't fair.

She gets the top bunk,
I'm sleeping on the floor.
She's Miss America…

Feeling invisible, the fieldmouse-maid sighed. Compared to Mariel, she was just a normal Abbeymaid; she had never had any adventures, or seen as much of the world as Dandin had. Why would he want her, when he could have somebeast so incredible?

And I'm just the girl next door, she whispered, looking down at her footpaws.

***

Later, Mariel was taking a walk through the Abbey, trying to clear her mind. What she had seen the night before couldn't be possible…it just wouldn't happen! Dandin falling in love with somebeast else? It couldn't…

However, the low voices she heard in Great Hall seemed to confirm that conclusion. The warriormaid halted on the last step of the Redwall stairs, peering around the corner, hoping she was just hearing things.

She wasn't. Dandin stood there with Nona. She knew that, as Dandin's best friend, she should have been happy for him…but she couldn't feel that way, no matter how hard she tried.

Senior class president,
She must be heaven-sent,
She was never the last one standing.

A backseat debutante,
Everything that you want,
Never too harsh or too demanding.

Nona was laughing as well, the insides of her ears blushing charmingly as she did. Mariel felt her own cheeks flush with embarrassment…Nona was quite pretty, with her golden-brown fur, slender form, and sparkling blue eyes that were cunningly hidden behind delicate round glasses. Mariel felt plain in comparison; her eyes were a dull brown, her fur was always dirty in some way, her figure was stocky and strong instead of slender and feminine. In addition, Nona had a nice personality…Mariel had never seen her lose her temper, not even once, even though the fieldmouse-maid had been in situations where Mariel would have been cracking heads out of pure frustration. And Nona was very smart as well…she had received the prestigious position as Saxtus' assistant Recorder, since she was such a bright young scholar. Right now she was discussing some story from Redwall's history with Dandin, a story the warriormaid had heard of before. It all seemed so easy for her.

Most likely, everybeast else would disagree with her, but at that moment, Mariel thought Nona was perfect, and it pained her.

Maybe I'll admit it,
I'm a little bitter.
Everybody loves her, but I just want to hit her!

The warriormaid ground her teeth in anger. She'd always assumed that Dandin's heart was hers, and that he would wait for her until she was good and ready to marry him. He'd certainly seemed to think so as well in the seasons they travelled together. Yet, now, all of his smiles were for Nona, and there was a look of pure adoration in his eyes whenever their eyes met. And who could blame him? Nona was so sweet, so intelligent, so pretty, so gentle…

She is the prom queen,
I'm in the marching band.
She is a cheerleader,
I'm sitting in the stands.

Unable to watch anymore, Mariel retreated into the stairwell, silently hitting the wall with her fist. Here she was, devoting her entire life and heart to Dandin, but he did not seem to care. Instead, he was fleeing into the arms of some quiet little mousemaid who had never left Mossflower. It wasn't fair.

She gets the top bunk,
I'm sleeping on the floor.
She's Miss America…

Feeling helpless, the warriormaid sighed. Maybe Dandin was tired of a live of adventure; maybe he just wanted somebeast who identified with Redwall, his home, better than she did. Why would he want her, when he could have somebeast so wonderful?

And I'm just the girl next door, she murmured, wearily laying her head against the wall.

***

I don't know why I'm feeling sorry for myself, thought Nona, as she stole a glance at Mariel from across Cavern Hole that evening at supper.

She didn't know that Mariel was thinking the exact same thing at that very moment. Myself…

As she glanced at Nona, Mariel felt disgusted with herself. I spend all my time wishing that I was someone else…

Dandin chose that very moment to enter the room, stopping by Mariel's table as he headed toward the buffet. Nona watched in envy as he clapped a paw on Mariel's shoulder. Startled, Mariel jumped; then she heard Dandin laugh, and lightly punched him on the shoulder in retaliation. They chatted for a minute, and then the warriormouse took his leave. In particular, Nona noticed how his gaze lingered on Mariel for a moment longer than necessary before he turned around. She is the prom queen; I'm in the marching band.

Mariel eyed Dandin as he filled his plate, noticing how he searched throughout the Hole, before brightening when he saw Nona. Hurrying over, he laid a paw on the mousemaid's shoulder, and, anticipating him, she laid her own paw on his. After a few moments of friendly talk, Dandin wandered off again, eventually sitting down by Abbot Saxtus. However, before he left, Mariel noticed that he gave Nona's paw a gentle squeeze. She is a cheerleader; I'm sitting in the stands.

Both maidens managed to sigh at the same time, unbeknownst to each other.

I get a little bit,
She gets a little more.

Nona put her elbow on the table so that she could lean her cheek against her paw. She's Miss America…

Mariel violently stabbed at her salad with her fork. She's Miss America…

The warriormaid ground her teeth; the Abbeymaid bit her lip. They both briefly looked up, both at Dandin and at one another, without noticing that the other mousemaid was doing the same thing. Then, they went uneasily back to their supper.

And I'm just the girl next door.

***

Hon Rosie and Treerose, who were sitting next to each other, had a good view of this scene from their vantage point. They cast each other a sarcastic look, and rolled their eyes.

"Hopeless," said the pretty squirrelwife, "utterly hopeless."

"You've bloomin' well got that right," answered the harewife darkly.

"And, of course, Dandin's completely oblivious to all the attention he's getting."

"Huh," Rosie snorted. "Typical for a male, wot."

"What was that, my darling?"

"Nothin', Tarquin dearest. Just female talk. You probably wouldn't understand."

"Fortunately for you," Treerose muttered.

***

The question of the hour is: who will Dandin choose? To learn that, you'll have to read The Return on Kelaiah's profile. Review, and give him all the credit for the brilliant story idea. And cookies, if you can somehow send them over cyberspace.

And now, I shall return to my other stories, to see if this has jumpstarted my brain out of the slump it's been in lately. I hope you all enjoyed this.