"Is this really necessary, master?" Obi said, annoyed, having used the door to enter the room for the first time in what seemed like forever due to his current restrictive-feeling outfit.
Zen glanced up at him from the document he was reading and repressed the urge to laugh. It wasn't Obi's fault he looked a bit weird decked out in formal wear in comparison to what he usually wore. Then again, what he usually wore was a bit weird in itself, he guessed. Hiding his smile behind his hand, Zen commented, "I think you could do without the hair gel…but yes, it's necessary. Formal dress required, remember?"
Obi tugged at the bottom of the waistcoat uncomfortably, unused to the feel of such stuffy clothing. But he supposed that being at the ball might have its upsides, as he thought of one in a cream-and-turquoise dress with apple-red hair…the thought almost distracted him from hearing what Zen said next.
"I can't have people thinking you're a suspicious person if you go in your normal clothes, and I'd like to have the added security of having you at the ball just in case something happens. I can't speak for all of the guards that'll be on duty, but I know how fast you can move in a situation. So I'd really appreciate if you do this for me."
Obi wasn't an idiot—he got the message hidden behind his words and smile.
No, you don't have a choice here. Shirayuki is too valuable to me to risk you not being there.
So Obi put on his usual placid smile, said "yes, master", and took his leave (back through the door—he missed his window entries already). He could only wonder if he would be able to steal a dance with the young miss later…
Obi stood in the shadows not far from the punch bowl, shoulders slightly hunched as his eyes darted about, taking in everything as it happened, boring though it was turning out to be. Every once in a while he would catch a glimpse of red, cream and turquoise in the midst of the sea of partygoers, and his hopes would get up that it was Shirayuki headed his direction, but unfortunately, every time it happened, his hopes were dashed. Ever since the party had started, Shirayuki and Zen had been each other's dance partners, and he had to grudgingly admit to himself that they did look quite good together—they were suited for each other. It made him wonder what kind of person he would look good with, due to his admittedly odd choice of "normal" everyday clothing, and whatnot…
He was so distracted by his melancholy thoughts that he almost didn't notice another woman interrupting Zen and Shirayuki's dance. His hands clenched at his sides as he stood up straight, already moving discreetly across the room towards them as Zen coolly accepted the other woman's request for a dance. Obi wondered briefly if she was a diplomat or other important figure that Zen wouldn't dare risk offending by refusing her request. Shirayuki seemed to hesitate in her spot on the dance floor, looking very out of place at the moment.
Shirayuki jumped a bit, but to her credit, didn't make a sound aside from a small intake of breath. Obi smirked a bit as she whirled around to face him with a frown on her face.
"Trying to give me a heart attack? That's not very nice of you, Obi," she said, cheeks flushed.
"Well that wasn't my intention, I was just wondering if you were going to stand there the whole song, or if you wanted some company. I'm not sure how my dancing compares to a noble's, but I know the basics…" he trailed off, leaving the offer hanging in the air for her to take or refuse as she would.
Shirayuki hedged for a moment. She glanced around—first at the floor, then at the punch bowl, Zen dancing with the other woman, and finally back at Obi, where she locked eyes with him for a moment. She bit her bottom lip, then held her hand out towards him.
"May I have this dance?"
Obi chuckled. It certainly followed the uniqueness of the girl to have such a role switch in the situation.
"I believe that's supposed to be my line…but yes, yes you may." He grinned and accepted her hand, interlacing their fingers as he placed his right hand on her waist. As she placed her other hand on his shoulder, he was suddenly struck by the intimacy of the position. When he was learning to dance, he had been taught by his mother in their cluttered living room, almost tripping every few seconds from the objects underfoot and having to concentrate to avoid the hazards. But now, in this large, open room with polished floors and a high, painted ceiling, he was awed by the closeness of the beautiful woman in his arms as they began to dance, spinning and swaying to the music.
It was, if he were to be completely honest with himself (which he rarely was), the most incredible thing he'd ever experienced.
The niggling thought remained at the back of his mind that if Zen were to pursue her, this moment would probably never happen again. He crammed the thought down with much gusto.
"Have you been enjoying your evening, young miss?" he asked, trying to make conversation to keep his negative thoughts at bay.
Shirayuki smiled wryly in response. "Well…yes and no," she admitted. "Despite the huge amount of time Kiki made me take to get ready, it's been nice to get dressed up for once and dance, but I still…feel out of place in the midst of all these nobles." She grimaced a bit. "And I can feel them staring at me. It's…very uncomfortable."
Obi smiled, glancing around the room to orientate himself before maneuvering their movements so they were slowly edging towards the raised orchestra platform.
Shirayuki noticed the shift. "Wha—"
"Shhh," Obi said with a conspiratorial smile. "Don't give away our position."
They passed beside and behind the orchestra platform, still dancing, out of sight of the other partygoers, before they reached a set of double doors. As their dancing slowed and stopped, Obi withdrew his hands with some reluctance and bowed, kissing the back of Shirayuki's hand.
"My thanks for the dance, young miss." He opened the doors and stepped aside to let her through. "Care to join me on the balcony?"
Shirayuki looked elated. He watched her carefully as she took in the star-soaked sky, the night view of the gardens below, and walked to the edge of the balcony, leaning her arms on the stone railing. There was a long moment of silence as Obi watched her, memorizing the sight of her as she smiled.
"It's beautiful," she said at last. "Thank you for bringing me here…it's nice to get away from it all for a bit."
Obi shrugged. "It's nothing."
Shirayuki turned her head to look at him. "No, it's not," she said seriously. "It's something. And I'm grateful for it, because it means you care." She smiled and turned her gaze back to the sky.
She was right, of course. If it were any other person, he probably wouldn't have bothered. If it were any other person, he wouldn't have asked them to dance in the first place, let alone cared if they were comfortable in the ballroom in the midst of a sea of strangers.
He tried not to think about it too much because of the inevitable heartbreak it would lead to, but she spoke the truth, whether she realized it or not—he loved Shirayuki.
It was a grim knowledge. And it wouldn't go away now that he had admitted it to himself.
Damn it all.
Nevertheless, he moved to her side and sighed quietly, mirroring her posture as he leaned his arms on the railing and gazed at the stars. A streak of light appeared across the sky.
"Ah! Quick, Obi, make a wish!" Shirayuki exclaimed beside him.
He couldn't help but chuckle at the seemingly perfect timing of it before his smile turned wry.
I wish to love her.
There was another stretch of silence before Obi spoke.
"Did you make a wish, too?" He looked over at the redhead beside him.
"What did you wish for?"
"No way! If you say it out loud, it won't come true," she said with a laugh.
"Drat." He couldn't help a small smile at the sound of her laugh.
The sound of footsteps approaching caused Obi to half-turn towards the doors.
"There you two are! I was beginning to worry something had happened to you," Prince Zen said, more to Shirayuki than to Obi, though that wasn't much of a surprise to him. "Come back inside, it's a bit chilly out here and we wouldn't want you catching cold."
The moment was broken. Shirayuki made to move towards Zen, but stopped when she noticed Obi wasn't following.
"Obi? Aren't you coming inside?" she asked. Was that a hint of concern in her eyes? Maybe it was a trick of the dim moonlight. He wasn't used to having people care for him. Yes, that must be it. Why would she care about an oddity like him?
"Nah…I think I'll stay outside for now. I'll come in a minute," he said, and there went that placid smile again, like nothing was wrong. He was fine, of course he was, what did they know? The cold was nothing compared to having to feel.
Shirayuki hesitated and seemed about to say something, but she shut her mouth and smiled tentatively at him. "Alright…see you inside, then."
He watched them go, Zen offering his arm to Shirayuki, and when she accepted it, his smile dropped and he quickly turned to face the gardens below once again. That moment of theirs was done. It was dead and gone. Their hearts had connected for the briefest amount of time, and then it was as though the tiny thread connecting them had been severed. Her string was reattached to Zen. Or maybe it had never been unattached to begin with, and his string was just reaching for hers, or something like that.
He dropped his head into his hands as he thought once more.
I wish to love her.
A/N: Over the few months since I originally posted this story, I have watched as the number of people who added this story to their favorites climbed into the double digits. I am astounded. Thank you for showing your love for this story by adding it to your favorites and reviewing. I figured the best way to show my gratitude would be to write a second chapter. It turned out quite bittersweet, but I hope you all like it anyways. I'm contemplating making a third to wrap it all up in a slightly more optimistic way. Please let me know your thoughts by PM or review.