A/N: Based on the performances given by Josh Groban and Idina Menzel in the 2007 Concert Version of Chess. As much as I enjoy this musical, something has always felt odd about the relationship between Anatoly and Florence. I don't know if it's just the way Josh and Idina, bless them both, portray the relationship, or if that's how it's written in the script, but their romance has always felt incredibly stilted and unreal. There's something too forced and strange to their movements, and the way they usually stand about five feet away from each other . . . it's such a disparity to their romantic words . . .
Anyway, this story was inspired by that. I hope you enjoy. Whether you do or not, please leave a review and let me know your thoughts. =)
She uses him.
Uses him to escape from her former reality. Uses him to let her live a fairy tale.
He uses her too though. So she doesn't feel guilty about it.
"White moves first," he tells her.
"Right," she says, blinking. "Sorry."
She glances at him, then down at the chess board between them. There is always at least a foot of space between them; a chess board just gives him a better excuse than empty air.
She considers what her first move should be. Control the center, anchor the pawns, or develop kings and knights? The center, she decides. She has not tried that on him in several games, and he cannot afford to grow rusty in any aspect of this sport.
She shifts a pawn to D4 and hits the timer.
He extends her a smile. He knows what she's doing.
"Be focused," she reminds him, even though she is not.
His composure not ruffling, his smile not slipping, he pushes a pawn to E5: a deliberate sacrifice. He trusts her to overtake the piece, trusts her to fall into this trap.
She moves a second pawn to F4 instead.
He should know by now that she's on no one's side but her own.
"Good," he praises. He may be World Champion, and she may still be no more than assistant, but he respects her ability to play chess. He needs her to keep his skills sharp and he needs her to reassure him that this fantasy they live is not a lie.
Which of course she always does. She must. She lives, dwells, revels in their fantasy too.
Her mind wanders as he ponders his next move. Can it truly be that, this time next month, they will be in Bangkok, with he playing yet again for the title of World Champion? Can a year truly go by so fast?
It is their first night in England. They shall stay at this hotel until they find a home, a search they will begin tomorrow. For now, however, sleep beckons.
He is already in bed when she emerges from the bathroom, stiff as a plank as he lies there, propped on his side, facing away from her. Her heart pangs and she slips into the other side of the bed. He does not move.
It is over, she longs to breathe, aches to run her fingers through his curls and knead the tension out of his muscles, it is over, relax, he is gone, they're all gone, you won the match, you should be happy, I want you to be happy . . .
She stretches out to him, lips parting to say these things, fingers lighting against his shoulders –
He jerks away from her, arm flinging up in an instinctive pose of defense, and she gasps and pulls away, shuddering and shaking and yanking in air through tight lungs. Scared.
His arm lowers. He rolls over to face her, but this does not change much: all she can see in this dark room are the whites of his eyes.
"Don't," he says. A plead.
Her body continues trembling. She knows he would not hurt her, but even knowing his movement was reflexive does not soothe her. "I-I just thought . . ." She can't finish.
She expects him to grasp her hand, to stroke her hair, to draw her against his chest and drown her face in kisses and wrap his fingers in the cotton of her nightgown and murmur that he's sorry, so sorry, he didn't mean to, he's just confused, he's lost, he needs her, he loves her, he loves her so much, too much . . .
He rolls back onto his other side without a word.
She stays where she is, hands pressed to her chest, eyes pressed to his back. She waits all night for love that never comes.
In the daylight, he is the perfect prince of the childhood tales. He showers her with words of utmost affection and devotion, looks at her as though she is the whole world. And she knows he means it.
Come night, he is more unaffectionate than a corpse. He lies on his side, cold and rigid, pressed as far to the right edge of the bed as possible. He refuses to embrace her or even hold her hand. Perhaps refuses is the wrong term; she never asks, after all. Never tries to touch him again, not after their first night together.
It strains things between them during the day: even a brush of shoulders or a touch on his arm jolts through him like lightning and returns him to an unyielding board, but to look at his face, one would never know. And that is all he needs: the look. Their facades. That is all he needs to construe this fabled reality.
Florence knows there is more to a relationship than sex. That does not mean her body doesn't burn during those long hours in the dark. She gave up everything to be with him, she loves him, and is it not natural for two people who love each other to express those feelings in more than flowery words?
They do not discuss it. She does not have the courage to mention it and shatter this fairy tale world she's come to adore. It is better to have some of him than none of him.
But he is so different come night, so different when the white light fades and the world turns black, and sometimes she must wonder why. Does he not wish to be unfaithful to his wife? Does he simply not love her? No, this is not true. He loves her as much as any prince loves his princess: loves her blindly and loyally and wholly without ever considering there is more to love than fond glances and murmurs.
She does not understand why he decided to purchase a one bedroom home in England. Surely upon leaving the hotel, he would want to avoid the circumstances of the past week's nights?
No, she realizes. He must continue to delude himself.
This mattress is king-sized, even larger and comfier than the queen-sized mattress in their hotel – even more distance for him to put between them.
She traces the lines of his body with her eyes – running over the contours of his legs, the length of his spine, the balled tension in his shoulders, the curve of his jaw, caressing them with her gaze as she never can with her hands – then rolls over and tucks into herself for warmth.
He aims to win with Boden's Mate, she realizes as she analyzes the board. It is a wise move, for it is simple, and thus she will not suspect it until too late.
But it is not too late.
"Damn," he murmurs as she foils his plans.
She smiles and smacks the timer.
He studies the chess board. She studies him studying the game and simmers to ask him – not for the first time – if he is ever unhappy with this life they have woven for themselves. If he ever yearns for the harsh darkness of truth rather than the blinding, glowing, lying lights that compose fairy tales.
If he ever desires to feel again, if only for a moment, if only to confirm he is alive.
Because this cannot last. He knows it, and she knows it, and it is only a matter of time before they must face it. For she needs a prince to sweep her away from the cold hands of reality, needs someone to save her from this torturing planet, needs someone to rescue her – because no matter what she might tell herself, she isn't strong enough to brave this world alone.
For he needs the same.
They both need someone to rescue them, for they are both damsels in distress – and yet they found each other. Trying to be the saviors for one another when each of their hearts still cries out for its own salvation.
Beings as needy as they cannot expect to survive together forever.
Fingers ghost against her thigh, fiddling with the material of her nightgown, drawing her away from sleep at once.
"I missed you today," he confesses in her ear, his breath washing over her, sending delighted goosebumps all along her skin.
She hums and leans into him, pressing her back against the warmth of his torso as he envelopes her in his arms. Shock threatens to overwhelm her, to cause her to jerk away from him, but the pleasure and joy shooting through her veins prevents her from doing so. She does not dare shove him away after waiting so long.
"I missed you too," she says.
He teases her ear with his teeth for a moment, then begins blazing a trail of kisses along her jaw, pulling a moan from her as her eyes flutter closed again – surrendering not to sleep this time, but to him. He moves to her neck, his downy hair grazing her cheek as he nuzzles her throat with his nose. She turns in his arms and captures his lips with her own, letting his mouth sear against hers for a moment before releasing him, burrowing against his shoulder.
"Why now?" she has to ask; she cannot help it.
"Hmm?" he mumbles into her hair, distracted by the task of liberating her from her nightgown.
"I mean – we haven't ever – " his mouth grabs hers, needy, and she gasps into it, dizzied and trembling from its passion " – I just don't understand what changed . . ." Her words are lost in another gasp as her body meets cold air, only to be pressed against heat just as quickly as he draws her to his chest.
"What're you talking about?" he rumbles low in his throat, hands stroking her spine and lips caressing her face.
She's finding it more and more difficult to talk: she's waited so long – too long. . . . She reaches up to brush a hand against his cheek –
And pulls back with a sharp inhale as she feels stubble rather than a smooth-shave. Feels her heart constricting as she recognizes his voice.
"Florence?" Freddie asks, propping himself on one elbow to get a better look at her through the darkness, putting a hand against her shoulder – and, as though timed, a shaft of moonlight pierces through the window, illuminating the both of them, throwing her panic and his concern into high relief. "What's wrong?"
She shoots up in bed, fists twisting among sheets, eyes wide, breathing unsteady.
Freddie is not here. The dream is gone.
The emotions remain.
Slowly, she lowers herself back upon the mattress. Anatoly has not stirred once, she notes as she stares at him, still struggling to remaster her breathing and force away the lingering, scalding fingertips of her former lover.
Why did she dream of him? She no longer cares for him. How could she, after everything he did to her? Their entire relationship had consisted of he verbally abusing her, of he using her for his own means, of he loving her –
She chokes back a sob and curls into a fetal position.
She longs to be touched again.
The end of the game is approaching. Both of them have lost many pieces, she more than he.
She wishes she could concentrate. She'd have a chance of winning if she did.
But she never can.
It isn't the sex she craves, she realizes many weeks after her dream. She can do without that. It's that ability to be close to someone that she yearns for. That touch that extends beyond the physical.
She can't breathe as she inches across the mattress, narrowing the gap between them until he is less than a fingertip away, and places a hand on his back.
He's awake in an instant, muscles clenching, breaths tightening, trying to twist away from her as fast as he can.
She does not move her hand.
"Don't," she whispers.
He stills. Mouth dry, her hand crawls to his shoulder, fingers wrapping against him, squeezing tenderly. When he still does not move, she presses to him, her chest to his back, hiding her face in his shoulder. She allows herself to relax against him, closing her eyes, her breath evening out.
The tension in his body does not leave – but neither does he.
They remain like this all night. They do not speak of it in the morning – nor does he ever allow her to do that again. One night is all he will give her for her weakness. One night is all he will give for her desire to feel something real.
And so their fairy tale goes on.
"Checkmate," he declares with no enthusiasm. "I win again." He stares at the chess board, then rises to his feet and strides to the window, studying the life below him.
"Neither of us can win, my love," she murmurs.
He turns towards her. "What? What did you say?"
She shakes her head and smiles at him. "Nothing."