September 1892

"Let's exchange secrets," whispers one to the other. She laces her hand through her companion's, scooting closer in the grass they've made a play-place out of. "If we are the best of friends, after all, we must know things about one another that no one else does."

"Very well," says the one with hair of sunlight. "What would you like to know? Ask me any question, and I shall answer truthfully." She gathers her skirts and shifts position so that she is laying on her side, one arm bent under her head, the other at an angle to keep their hands together.

The other girl considers, quirking her lips to the side with the effort. After a few moments, her violet eyes light up and she takes on a cautiously mischievous expression.

"Have you ever…kissed anyone?" she drops her voice at the midpoint of her sentence.

"Why, of course," her friend replies, looking surprised. "A few people, naturally. I…have you never?"

"I'm only fourteen," is the shy response. She drops her eyes and turns her head, covering her face with a curtain of dark curls. "I've never gotten up the nerve."

"How much nerve does it take?" the other girl is clearly puzzled, and she props herself up a bit further. "It's the simplest act in the world, really."

"Not really…"

"Pippa." She half-laughs. "Pressing lips together? Hardly what you'd call a world-changing event."

"Well, it is, isn't it?" Pippa looks awfully disappointed. "It always sounded so romantic…it only seemed fitting to wait for my true love, don't you think?"

"You're a hopeless romantic," laughs the blonde. "My first was out of curiosity, nothing more."

"Fee, that's terrible!"

"Why?" Felicity's look becomes completely incredulous. "It's kissing, Pippa."

"Well, I still want to wait for someone who is worth it," she huffs, withdrawing her hand and wrapping her arms about her knees. "Or at least someone I really like. Even if they aren't my true love, I maintain that my first kiss shall be especially special."

Felicity ponders this for a moment, then nods. "I suppose not everyone wishes to get it out of the way just to see what it's like."

"Have you never kissed someone you truly cared for?" Pippa's eyes widen with this potential newfound twist.

"Not really," Fee admits. "Most of the time, it was purely experimental. I have plenty of time to get serious later, after all."

"Oh," Pippa's voice drops with disappointment. "How sad, that you've never had a really, honestly romantic kiss. Doesn't that make you sad?"

"I never really thought about it." she tilts her head to the side and watches the overcast sky with almost undivided attention.

"They match," Pippa interjects suddenly.

"What matches?" Fee doesn't look away from the darkening clouds.

"Your eyes. They are the exact same color as the sky is before it's about to storm."

"Is that good?" is the somewhat amused response.

"Of course it's good, that's a lovely color." Pippa rolls her own eyes as if this wasn't the most obvious question anyone could have asked. "Much better than mine, they're practically purple. I hate them."

"What?" Felicity scrambles around to face her friend. "Don't ever say that again!"

"Why not?" Pippa balks.

"You are the most beautiful girl in the world. If I ever hear you say anything to suggest otherwise, I shall never speak to you again."

Pippa's mouth drops. "You wouldn't!"

"I would."

"But you're my best friend!" she whines. "That isn't fair in the slightest!"

"Well, that's just too bad. You'll have to remember not to say those things about yourself, won't you?"

Pippa glares at the grass. "Very well, but you'll have to give me more than one chance, else I might forget accidentally and you wouldn't speak to me anymore, and what would I do with myself then?"

"Two chances. That's it."

"All right," Pippa sighs. "I shall keep it in mind."

"Good." Satisfied, Felicity's face loses its hardness and resumes a calmer demeanor. After a split second, she hesitates, then bites her lip slightly. "Pip, we are best friends, aren't we?"

"Why, of course! Coming up on a year now, you know that just as well as I do."

"Pippa," Fee begins, searching for the right arrangement of words. "I think perhaps, seeing how you haven't had a first kiss just yet…well, wouldn't it make sense to have it with someone you trust more than anyone else?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I was getting at earlier!" Pippa's eyes light up. "They must be very, very dear to me."

"Am I dear to you?"

"Fee, I…don't think I understand where you're going with this," she says slowly, visibly trying to comprehend where the conversation is headed.

"Let me be your first one, Pippa," Fee explains quickly and breathlessly. "Please. I…it doesn't matter to me what you do after that, nor with whom. Just let me be the first."

"Fee!" her friend's voice betrays exactly how scandalous she finds this concept, and she sits forward, not sure whether to be excited or scared. "You…you're serious? That's simply not done!"

"And why not?" Fee demands. "Aren't you the one who said the person should be someone you love and trust more than anyone else in all the world? Does it really matter whether that person is a man or not?"

"Well…" Pippa bites her lip. "I suppose not…but Fee…"

"You have to know how I feel about you," Felicity whispers, searching her friend's face. "You must. It's impossible that you wouldn't."

"I do." the brunette nods softly. "I have, since we first became best friends."

"And?" the words are spoken so quietly, they are almost unheard.

Pippa takes on a look of absolute concentration, then comes to a mental conclusion. She takes a deep breath.

"Very well, Fee. You shall be my first kiss. However--" she holds up one hand at her friend's newfound look of shocked happiness . "Now is simply too soon for me…if I promise to let you be my first, will you promise to wait until I'm ready?"

"Oh, Pip, I would wait forever." Felicity's voice is unsteady, a rare occurrence for one usually so composed. "Do you really mean it?"

"Completely. Let's shake hands on it, shall we?"

They join hands once more, giving them a firm shake, then Pippa laces her fingers through Felicity's again and they lie back on the grass watching the sky for the oncoming storm.

___________________

August 1894

"Isn't this the loveliest party you've ever attended?" Pippa asks breathlessly, eyes shining.

"It's all right," Fee replies, twirling her dance card between her fingers. "Of course, I expect we shall go to much grander ones once our seasons begin."

"Oh, Fee." her friend rolls her eyes. "Live for today, won't you? Come, let's go see what sort of people are here to dance with." At this, her voice takes on a cheeky tone, something she generally can't manage for all her innocence.

"Don't get carried away, Pip," Fee laughs, allowing herself to be dragged to the other side of the ballroom. She nearly trips on her silken cerulean skirts and quickens her pace.

"Here, I think this is where we put them for gentlemen to fill them out." Pippa points to the table where other dance cards have been neatly aligned, some already written on. She sets hers in an empty space, fixing it until it is at the perfect angle. Felicity follows suit, though perhaps with a degree less enthusiasm. Before long, young men are strolling past, filling their names in the blanks with the pencils that are attached to the cards.

Pippa watches from a safe distance, somewhat anxiously, as one observes the space where she has set hers. After a moment of brief hesitation, he picks up the pencil and scrawls his name next to a waltz, then looks up. He catches her eyes and gives her a quick smile.

"Lovely, Pip, you've already got a partner." Fee gives her a playful nudge in the side.

"Oh, stop it, you," she laughs. "You'll have plenty more, I'm certain." She links her arm through her best friend's, and they head over to the ribbon-bedecked chairs to wait for their dances.

_______________

"There you are!" Felicity grabs hold of her friend's sleeve. "I thought you'd left me for good!" she grins widely. "After all, you danced with that fellow three times, and after that I simply lost track of you! What side of the ballroom were you on? I'm absolutely certain I checked everywhere!"

"Fee…" Pippa's cheeks are flushed to just the right shade of pink, and she fiddles with her fan, looking downward.

"You were right, this is a marvelous dance! You should have seen me during the quadrille; if I do say so myself, I didn't mess up one single step!"

"Fee…"

"Well, get to it!" Felicity rocks on her heels a moment. "Where on earth did you get off to? Were you near the food table?"

"Fee, I wasn't in the ballroom…" Pippa's head completely hangs, and her voice trails off uncertainly.

"Well…Pip? What's wrong?" Felicity's heart skips a beat warningly, and her features express worry. "Are you all right? Did something happen?"

"Something…happened, yes…Fee, promise you won't be mad at me, you mustn't."

"What happened?" Felicity's voice is now heightened to a tone of alarm, and she can hardly hear her own thoughts over the heartbeat reverberating through her entire body.

"You see, he asked if I'd like to accompany him for a bit of fresh air, and I accepted, and, well…" Pippa swallows hard. "Fee, please don't be angry with me, but…well, we were out on the terrace, and…"

"You didn't," Felicity whispers, breath catching in her chest.

"We, well…he…you see, it was rather unexpected, and what was I to do? And--"

"Did he…did he kiss you?" Fee struggles to get the words out, insides twisting in the most horrible way.

"I…a few times…and…well, perhaps a bit more, but not too much more…oh, Fee, you're angry…" Pippa bites her lip once more, anxiously watching her friend. "Are you angry? Please don't be, Fee, I couldn't bear it if you were."

"And you let him?"

"What was I supposed to do?"

"Tell him no!"

"Why?" Pippa's hands fly to her hips defensively. "What if I didn't want to tell him no? What then?"

"Why wouldn't you want to?" Felicity demands, tears congregating in her eyes. "Go on, tell me!"

"What is the matter with you?" her friend exclaims. "It was just kissing. Hardly a world-changing event, aren't you the one that said so? How is this any different than that? Why is it so awful when I kiss somebody? You have, after all, hundreds of times, haven't you?"

"This is different." Fee's voice lowers dangerously, but Pippa is too far gone to realize the magnitude of the situation.

"Tell me exactly how it's different, Felicity! Why is it all right for you to go gallivanting around experimenting with anyone you please, and then you react this way when I do the same? Why?"

"Because you promised me!" Felicity erupts in tears, for perhaps the first time since Pippa has known her. "You promised me years ago! You said you weren't ready yet, and I promised I'd wait for you, and I have! And here's someone you met hours ago, and you do this! How could you do this?"

"Fee…"

"I said I didn't care what happened after the fact, but you swore I got to be first! You made me a promise!"

"Fee, I…" Pippa wrings her hands, uncertain. "Fee, of course I still care about you…you mean more to me than anyone, you always have…I still want to, we can still…"

"There will never be another first," Felicity manages to get out through her broken voice. "And I shan't be the second, or the third, or any."

"Fee!" Pippa's eyes widen in alarm. "Please don't be angry with me, Fee…"

"Yours would have been the only one that ever mattered to me--you asked me if anyone else had, and I told you no. Only yours."

"Don't do this," Pippa pleads, reaching for her friend's arm. Felicity pulls away violently.

The brunette tries once more, gently attempting to make contact. "Please, Fee."

"I hate you."

At this, Pippa's perfect bow-shaped lips form an O, and she drops her arm automatically. No words come out, only silence. Time stops until Felicity gathers her skirts, turns on her heel, and departs without a word, leaving her alone in the illuminated hallway. Her sobs can be heard echoing vaguely, until the sounds cease entirely.

Pippa stands there for she doesn't know how long. Music can be heard loudly, then softly, as the doors open and close.

"I hate me too." She sinks against the wall and buries her face in her arms. She says it over and over, knowing in doing so she has broken yet another promise. To her, it no longer matters. Fee won't speak to her ever again anyway, and the irony is cruel enough to yield a broken laugh before she dissolves into tears completely.

Love is a battlefield. Review, please?