Disclaimer: All characters belong to Tamora Pierce.
Author's Note: Yuki often gets the short end of the stick in fanfiction. Neal cheats on her, or she and Neal have a messy breakup, or she gets killed off, etc., etc. I figured it was time to portray Yuki in a different light. Enjoy!
Her hands tremble as she smooths out her dress. The silk glides across her skin in the most exquisite way, but she only shivers and studies her hands, so pale and slender in the late morning light. So bare of any ornaments. Months ago she dreamed of the ring that would one day circle her finger, but now she dreads that golden band as if it will be nothing more than a slave collar.
And perhaps it will.
She shuts her eyes, mindful of the face paint that colors her eyelids and the dark cosmetics that lengthen her lashes. She must go through with it. A Yamani does not turn her back upon duty, and she is still a Yamani in spite of the Tortallan-style dress she had insisted on for this special occasion. For the Tortallan man she has promised to marry, and for his Tortallan friends and family.
Her eyes open and she finds her face in the long oval mirror, taking refuge in her ability to appear as stone. Her almond-shaped brown eyes and full red mouth reveal none of the torment that eats away inside her, and if she focuses on her reflection than perhaps she can convince herself that all will be well. Soon a priestess will come to fetch her from the dressing room, and once she is in the chapel she will speak a few vows, then look up into those familiar eyes that will greet her each day for a lifetime—
But the eyes she imagines are not green. She sees blue eyes instead, blue eyes that have haunted her since that day in Fort Steadfast, when she stood at the ramparts waiting for her betrothed and met his cousin instead. He was friendly and polite, making her relax so easily that she felt as if she known him for weeks or months, or maybe even years, and he kept her company while she waited for Neal to arrive.
If only Neal had arrived sooner.
Those days in Fort Steadfast passed like a dream that had her firmly in its grasp. She thought less and less of the green eyes she was promised to and lost herself to the blue eyes that watched her when nobody was around. The eyes that strayed towards her when others were around and filled her with a regret that killed her inside.
She knows he's waiting out there.
They're both waiting, green eyes and blue eyes ready to drink her in the moment she enters the chapel, and her palms start to sweat for she knows she can't go through with this. And yet she must. A promise is a promise, and she can learn to forget those tempting blue eyes in time.
Or perhaps not.
She longs for a rainstorm, or an attack, or anything that will halt the inevitable and save her from a life filled with looking backward, sick with regret. Just a few storm clouds and a small shower of rain would be enough to prolong her fate for a day at least. She wouldn't have to lie to those green eyes with false vows on her lips, at least not yet. She wouldn't have to pledge herself to one man while another man watched, his features shaped into a brave face worthy of the Yamanis.
It rained the first time he kissed her.
She remembers sitting alone with a cup of green tea, listening to the rain fall and wondering when Neal and Kel would arrive at the fort, when he arrived with those features that reminded her so much of her betrothed, and yet possessed a uniqueness all their own. She hid her face behind her fan, afraid of the conflicted feelings that rippled within her like a troubled lake, but his presence was like a spell, relaxing her into letting down her guard until he was close, closer, and closer still...
"I'm getting married."
But she surrendered to his gentle lips and his very blue eyes. She surrendered to him knowing that his cousin longed to have her in his arms. Her troubled lake became a hurricane and she tried to think of green eyes and dry humor, but he was in the way, and it was hard to resist him when her heart felt like it had found its missing piece.
"You aren't married yet."
The seconds tick by. How much longer does she have until her fate is sealed? She studies her dress, stitched so painstakingly by Lalasa, her hair, elaborately waved and pinned up in the latest fashion for brides, her face, so beautiful and emotionless in the glass. Her hands slowly ball themselves into worried fists and she looks toward the door, wondering... wondering... Does she dare to be so bold? Does she dare such selfishness?
It didn't end at Fort Steadfast.
It could have ended, it should have ended, but the more she saw him the harder it grew to keep her distance. If only he had been the cousin to meet her first, if only he had entered her life before she ever learned Neal's name, if only he was the one waiting to speak the vows that would bind him to her forever.
If only, if only.
She picks up her skirts and flees from the room, feeling half-mad as she makes her escape down halls and corridors, through doors and passages until blessed sunlight hits her face and she's free, free from a promise she can't hold onto. They'll be looking for her soon, worried that something has gone wrong, and how can she tell them that no, everything was wrong from the very beginning?
Oh, how selfish she is.
And yet she isn't selfish at all. Wouldn't it be truly selfish to wed one man while her heart belonged to another? What if she married him and didn't stay faithful? Better to break his heart now before it's too late, rather than break it a thousand times during a long, troubled marriage.
She's saving them both from heartbreak.
The seconds pass, ticking away as she stands in the sun, and she knows she can't remain in the open forever. She's too conspicuous with her flowing skirts and piles of black hair, and sooner or later some palace guard will spot her and stuff her back into the cage she had escaped from. She doesn't bother to pick up her skirts this time, not caring if she ruins them, and heads for the familiar old haunt where she knows he will find her. The gardener's hut is empty, just as she expected.
She stands there and waits.
Footsteps approach after ten minutes? An hour? Three hours? She can't keep track of the passing time and soon it doesn't matter, because he's in front of her, blue eyes concerned as he folds her into her a long-awaited embrace. Yuki can't keep the tears from spilling from her eyes, tears that speak of long weeks filled with guilt, but she's chosen Dom and won't go back.
I'm sorry, Neal.