Author's Notes: Written for Black Rose Blue's 100K Pairing Challenge on the HPFC forum, the purpose of which is exactly what it sounds like – writing a romance story of 100K or more.
My pairing is Druella/Abraxas, making this officially the first long, multi-chaptered Druella/Abraxas on the site.
I want to love you, but I'd better not touch.
I want to hold you but my senses tell me to stop.
I want to kiss you but I want it too much.
I want to taste you but your lips are venomous poison…
Only boring people are bored had been one of the favourite sayings of Druella's nurse when she was young. So often had it been drilled into her mind – repeated every time that she, Druella, complained of the dullness that she was forced to suffer every day – that even now that she was eighteen, she could not say, even in her own mind, that she was bored without hearing the phrase repeated back to her.
This would not have been so terribly bothersome if only she had not been so terribly, terribly bored that she could not help thinking it.
As a general rule, Druella enjoyed parties, especially when she was receiving some attention at them. She was fond of attention in general, and most especially the attention of handsome men asking her to dance.
What dreadful irony, then, that at a party held in her honour – the party that was meant to celebrate the completion of her education, and the fact that she was now a young lady – a party in which she was being positively drenched in attention and praise and comments about what a lovely woman she was growing up into, Druella wanted nothing more than to deliver a sharp slap across the face of each and every person who tried to speak to her.
Perhaps she would not have been so terribly bored if the person that she was interested in – and who was supposed to be interested in her – would pay her some attention.
"Dance with me, Cygnus!" she said, catching the arm of her husband-to-be and pulling him away from Charis – eleven years older than me and already married; what could Cygnus want to dance with her for?
Charis dropped his hands immediately and stepped backwards. "There is no need to shout, Druella," she said quietly, blinking slowly and then fixing Druella with an infuriatingly impassive stare. Druella frowned at her, trying her best to look serious and slightly intimidating, though when she caught sight of herself in one of the mirrors that lined the ballroom, she thought that she appeared little more than vaguely sulky.
It might have been less of an annoyance that Cygnus was dancing with Charis if Charis had not been, for nearly all of Druella's life, the standard against which she measured herself for beauty and for accomplishment. When Druella had been six and Charis seventeen, and Charis had been lauded for her needlework, Druella had sat herself down with an embroidery hoop and tried, with clumsy and wobbling fingers, to recreate the satin-stitched roses that Charis had been able to sew so quickly. She, Druella, had found herself quite incapable of it, and her nurse had found her hours later in tears over the ruined muslin and wasted silk thread and her fingers all bloodied from pricking them on the needle.
"What in Heaven's name have you been doing?" she demanded, dragging Druella by her wrist to the washbasin to clean her, and Druella barely managed to explain, while doing everything to hold back tears, that she had been trying to embroider as well as Charis had.
The confession had earned Druella a sharp slap on her hand and a reprimand for jealousy, and that had been enough to teach her never to tell that she was trying to imitate the older girl.
The imitation – what Druella privately saw as a competition – had gone on after that, quite undeterred. There were times when Druella thought that perhaps she was a bit foolish for comparing herself so religiously to a girl so much older than herself – that perhaps it was unfair to herself to someone to whom she would never be able to live up to entirely, no matter how hard she tried – but she did it despite such worries.
With dedication and many, many hours spent bent over embroidery needles and spinning wheels and lace bobbins, Druella fancied that she was very nearly as accomplished as Charis – certainly more so than Charis had been at age eighteen. Druella had her old needlework to compare herself to, and she took derisive pleasure in how much more delicate her lacework was, and how much finer her thread. She took some pride in the fact that she had been allowed to spin with silk when she was fourteen – one year younger than Charis – and that she could not only spin it, but also weave it and embroider with it.
But as accomplished as Druella was, she was never going to live up to her where looks were concerned.
Charis had been blessed with the lush dark hair and fine, sculptured bone structure that was so common amongst the Blacks – high cheekbones and pointed jaw and straight, delicate nose – and she had a way of holding herself that was at once imperious and retiring; the ideal combination of qualities in a lady. She was tall – far taller than Druella or even than Cygnus – and willowy, and dresses always fell perfectly on her frame.
Druella, by contrast, was short and rather plump, her face a little too round for grace, and while she fancied her hair a rather pretty shade of blonde, it was nothing in comparison to Charis's hair, which was black and sleek as oil and made Druella's look like a sheep's fleece in comparison. Even as it was right now – smoothed and drawn up into a tight knot on the crown of her head – Druella thought that her hair was quite ugly in comparison. She had curves that Charis did not, which she was told was a good thing because a full figure told people that she had had enough to eat during the war, but if that was true, there would have been no reason that Druella had to cling to a bedpost every morning while her corset laces were tightened enough to make her waist suitably small. Her body hadn't even had the decency to put the curves on her chest where she would have liked them, but had filled out her hips and thighs instead, and those were always hidden beneath her skirts so she could not show them off.
"Druella?" Cygnus asked, and she shook herself, purposefully averting her eyes from Charis and grasping his hand.
"Dance with me," she repeated firmly. "It's my party – my fiancé ought to be dancing with me."
"Quite so, of course." He squeezed her hand gently, then drew her out to the centre of the ballroom floor, swaying slightly with her. Druella relaxed – it was far easier to now that Charis was not so close to her or her husband-to-be – and rested her chin lightly on Cygnus's shoulder. She could feel his warm breath upon her neck, and it was pleasant.
"Cygnus?" she murmured.
"Why were you dancing with Charis?"
He lifted his head a bit and moved his hand away from her waist so that he could tip her head up and meet her eyes. Druella's cheeks coloured slightly at his scrutiny, and she turned her head, looking at the ground.
"Are you jealous, Druella?" he asked, and there was a faint note of amusement in his voice. "Of Charis?"
"Jealousy is a sin," Druella murmured. "Don't accuse me of sinning, Cygnus. Just tell me why you were dancing with her."
"Because she is my cousin and she offered to dance, and I thought that you were enjoying–"
"Enjoying standing at the side of the room while my fiancé dances with every other woman at the party?" Druella asked, not without some petulance. "At my party? Did you think that I was enjoying that, Cygnus?"
He sighed. "I didn't think of it that way."
"You didn't think."
Cygnus fell silent, and Druella did too, preferring stony quiet to the jibes that would no doubt pass between them as soon as he opened his mouth again.
At last, he cleared his throat softly. "I do not want our marriage to be full of suspicion, Druella."
"Meaning…" He sighed perhaps unsure of what he meant to say. "Meaning that I don't think that we should each be worrying so much about the other one being unfaithful. We ought to trust each other."
"Will I have reason to think that you are being unfaithful?" Druella demanded sharply.
"Of course not, Druella! All I mean… all I mean is that perhaps our first conclusion if we see each other with someone of the opposite gender shouldn't be that it is infidelity–"
"Do you realize how this sounds, Cygnus?" she asked, aware that her voice had gone quite shrill. "Do you realize what you are saying? Are you trying to tell me that when I see you running about with pretty girls, I should just assume that you aren't being unfaithful, no matter what? Because it sounds terribly like you expect to be in a lot of situations that would look like infidelity…"
"Of course I'm not saying that," he said, and his voice went rather cold. "Never mind. Think whatever you care to. But I'm not going to listen to you if you whine to me about my dancing with another woman before we're even married. It's petty to do so. Once we are married, perhaps I'll be more willing to let you–"
"We're as good as married!"
"No," he said, dropping her hands and stepping back from her. "No, Druella, we are not. We have a long way to go before we are married."
Druella's eyes narrowed to slits. If she had had more nerve, she would have slapped Cygnus, but she restrained herself and merely glared furiously at him.
"Fine," she said, struggling for control. Part of her wanted to tear him to pieces, and another part wanted her to fall down and cry her eyes out. "Fine, then. If you don't want to act as though we're married yet, then we don't have to. You- go! Go dance with Charis some more." Then Druella turned on her heel, straightening her back, and she marched out with all the dignity that she could muster.
The moment she was out of the ballroom, she dissolved into tears.
It wasn't fair.
All she wanted out of life was a happy marriage. That wasn't much to ask, she thought – Cygnus was a good man, and even though she wasn't sure that she could say with complete truthfulness that she loved him, she did think that she came close to it. She certainly liked him a great deal, and she wanted to marry him – not like some girls who were forced into marriages with men that they despised – and it stung her that he was already making plans to be unfaithful to her.
That was what he was doing, wasn't it? Druella's stomach twisted a bit as doubt crept into her – perhaps she was being too suspicious. Perhaps he had truly not meant to sound so much like he was planning to commit adultery. Perhaps she ought to go back into the ballroom and apologize…
No. She would not. Whatever his intentions had been, she would stand by her belief that he intended to be unfaithful, and she would not apologize for that.
But she did promise herself, on the spot, standing there in the corridor with tears streaming down her face, that she would never give Cygnus reason to be as suspicious of her as she was of him.