Disclaimer: I do not own the Swan Princess.
It started innocently enough. Well, innocently considering the depth of the rivalry between Odette and Derek. By the standards of their childhood meetings, the beginnings of Catch and Fire were downright sweet.
What really began the whole thing was Bromley hitting Odette with his slingshot as she was arriving for the summer. She was nine, Bromley ten, Derek eleven. Though Odette was furious about the tomato on her clothes, she was quick to point out that Bromley had in fact missed and hit the ship's rail whenever the boys were inclined to call her "Tomato Face." The subject was forgotten after the disastrous incident that ended the summer: the collapse of the treehouse that landed them all with several broken bones each.
Or so Derek and Bromley believed.
It was four whole years before Odette exacted her revenge. To Derek's fury, it was on him that the tomato landed, not Bromley. And there was nothing he could do about it, because Odette was boarding the ship to sail home. Not only that, she had hit him on the shoulder with her back to him. Not even Derek could accomplish that feat with his slingshot. Never, ever would he admit she was better than him at anything!
He had nine months to work out an appropriate answer. When she arrived for the summer and made mention of playing slingshots with him and Bromley, the sixteen-year-old loftily informed her that slingshots were a child's toy. Real adults shot bows and arrows, something he'd already been doing for years. She'd never be able to keep up.
To his disappointment, Odette trailed after him to the archery ranges. He thought she'd outgrown trying to do whatever he and Bromley did, and told her so. She just tilted her cute little nose in the air and ignored him. Derek resolved to ignore her in turn, stupid, stubborn girl that she was. She'd soon see archery was for men.
With her watching, he was inexplicably nervous. He shot badly. He could feel her following his every move with her eyes. Finally, humiliated and frustrated, he shouted, "Will you just go away? I'm trying to concentrate!"
"Not until you teach me," was her unexpected answer.
"But girls can't shoot!" he protested.
"They can't shoot slingshots from behind their backs, either, can they?" she replied sweetly.
"No, of course—" he started, before realizing he'd walked right into her trap. He growled under his breath. "If I teach you, will you promise to leave?" he demanded sullenly.
"My word as a princess," she answered with a quick, graceful curtsey.
Derek swallowed past the dryness in his mouth. "Come on, then." They found a bow that would suit her size, tall for a fourteen-year-old girl. They had always been nearly the same size despite the difference in their ages until this year, when he'd shot past her to his full adult height.
He explained the bow, the targets, the arrows, and how to hold and draw the bow. He made her practice drawing the bow without an arrow until she could do it to his satisfaction. Then he gave her some arrows and stepped back. "Let's see how you do."
He was going to enjoy this.
She drew the bow correctly, but missed the target. After the first few misses, he expected her to give up. She didn't. Instead, she brushed sweat-streaked gold hair out of her eyes and kept on trying. And trying, and trying. The morning ticked away towards lunch, and she was still at it.
Her arrows landed closer and closer to the target. Finally, they reached the target's edge. Derek found he was giving her pointers despite himself. He chose the target next to her to continue his own practice. Without her scrutiny, he did much better.
It was odd to spend so much time in her presence without fighting. The mood of silent concentration was actually almost…dared he think it?...pleasant?
They heard Uberta calling Derek, then William Odette. It was lunchtime.
"Quick!" Derek said. "Go someplace else and come to lunch from some other direction! If they know we were together they'll start talking about marriage again and how great it is we're finally getting along!"
"Right!" To Derek's great surprise, Odette obeyed. She started to scurry off, then paused. She turned back and curtsied again. "Thank you very much for the archery lesson, Prince Derek."
He bowed back automatically. "It was nothing, Princess."
Then she disappeared. Derek stared after her. Who would have thought the two of them could spend a whole morning together without a harsh word or a rude gesture between them?
They told no one where they'd spent that morning. Or subsequent mornings that summer when one of them would come upon the other practicing. Derek had always found shooting to be soothing, and it seemed Odette did, too. Even after a fight, if they met on the shooting range they would simply pick the targets furthest from each other and pretend their rival didn't exist.
Odette improved by leaps and bounds. When they weren't fighting, Derek found he enjoyed instructing her. She didn't have his years of comfort with the bow, but she was an eager pupil.
No one found out their little secret all summer. As usual, they ended the summer with a big fight and a lot of hard feelings. The next summer, when Derek was seventeen and Odette fifteen, Odette returned much improved. She'd obviously been practicing at home. In a few years she might be as good as Derek. For some reason this idea didn't bother him. Anything else, it probably would. But since he'd helped her learn, he was sort of proud that she did so well. No matter how much instruction he got, Bromley would always be an uncertain shot.
Speaking of Bromley, Derek's friend found out what Derek and Odette were up to about midway through the summer. He teased Derek in private, but he also began joining their practices.
The next summer, the games grew slightly more deadly. Odette had progressed enough that she could hit a very small dot on a target every time. Derek had been talking to her about hunting and explaining where to hit the animal in order to ensure a clean kill. Neither of them could remember afterwards whose idea it was, but somehow it ended with Odette aiming her bow at him instead of a target. Bromley walked in at the wrong moment, startling Odette into loosing. Derek, being an invincible eighteen-year-old, chose to test his reflexes by catching the arrow rather than dodging.
Odette screamed; Bromley gasped. Derek caught the arrow. Odette threw down her bow with a sobbing cry and fled towards the castle.
Her scream had brought the entire court running. The secret was out, and Derek had to explain everything without Odette there to back him up. Later, when he was finally alone, Derek wondered about her reaction to nearly shooting him in the heart. There was a time she would have been smugly pleased about the idea of almost killing him. What had changed? And when? Was it because they were both growing up, or something else? The idea of "something else" made him vaguely uncomfortable.
The next time they met, Odette apologized profusely for nearly shooting him. The stilted and stammered way she said it told Derek her father was listening nearby to make certain the apology occurred. Yet he knew it was also sincere, or she wouldn't be avoiding the shooting range.
Nearly a week after the incident, Derek managed to corner Odette without someone else listening in.
"Look," he said. "I understand you didn't mean to do it. It was an accident. Come back to the shooting range. You still need to practice or you won't get better."
She looked startled. "But what if—"
He grinned at her. "Next time we'll do it on purpose."
Odette studied him, then she smiled back, the old mischievous smile he remembered. "All right."
And that was how Catch and Fire really started. Now that everyone knew about their practice sessions, they were supervised by Lord Rogers, the orchestra maestro who was also a father-figure to Derek. The rail-thin older man was not particularly enthusiastic about the Prince and Princess shooting at one another, but when he saw that Derek and Odette were going to play their new game whether he liked it or not, he agreed. Both he and Derek absolutely refused to allow Odette to catch an arrow shot at her heart. She didn't have the reflexes. She wasn't too pleased about this, but was forced to agree.
A few days later, she suggested the apple. She'd been reading the story of Wilhelm Tell and come to the next practice session all afire with the idea. Derek caught her enthusiasm and again they overruled Rogers' objections. Bromley, too, thought they were both crazy but discovered he couldn't talk either of them out of it.
Lord Rogers finally threatened to go to King William and Queen Uberta if the pair didn't agree that whoever had the apple on his or her head had to wear armor. Odette hated wearing the suit of armor borrowed from one of her friends among the castle guards but she put up with it as long as she got to shoot an apple off of Derek's head when it was his turn to put on the armor.
They played the full version of Catch and Fire (as they named it) fifty-one times that summer. There was never a mishap. In the reversed half-version allowed to Odette, she shot apples off of Derek's head more times than Lord Rogers cared to count.
Then came the end of the summer. As usual, Derek and Odette fought. Odette found Derek playing with a slingshot, and, predictably, was furious with him. They were icily polite to each other for the remainder of her visit for the sake of the lectures they'd get from their parents if they weren't—they'd learned something in all their years of fights.
The next summer was that fateful summer where they looked at each other and realized they were never going to love anyone else. Derek was nineteen, Odette seventeen. For Derek, though he never told anyone this, the slight tomboyishness she retained even into graceful womanhood was part of the reason he'd been attracted to her all along. He couldn't articulate this, any more than he could tell Odette he found her anything but beautiful.
What happened next is not a secret. Odette was kidnapped and put under an evil enchanter's spell. Derek was given the chance to prove what he could not say: that he loved Odette for more than just her looks.
And when it came down to saving Odette, it always seemed appropriate that it was done with the game they invented together. The fifty-third success of Catch and Fire.
Author's Note: Just a cute and fluffy story that came to mind last time I watched The Swan Princess. Odette is so tomboyish and spunky in the beginning of the movie, it breaks my heart that she ends up not getting to participate in her own rescue and basically turns into a Sleeping Beauty: lying there for all intents and purposes dead while the prince and sidekicks do all the work. I'd like to think she got to contribute vicariously. Seriously, why do Bromley and Rogers act like Bromley's never played Catch and Fire before if Derek's done it 52 times?