“Odette,” Derek started, “I’m glad there is this ridiculous ball. I’m glad I have a second chance to do it right.”
From a small distance, Queen Uberta looked on in disbelief, while Roger had started up the band after that brief lull at Odette’s entrance. Soon Princess Odette’s name was on everyone’s lips, gasps of amazement and envy, the murmuring spreading like fire; a phoenix from the ashes.
Odette smiled, all candle-lit softness. The only silent, serene thing in the cacophony of guests, and string instruments, the only thing that mattered. It seemed perfectly simple now.
Transfixed, Derek led Odette towards the middle of the ball room. ”Can you ask me again?”
She looked up at him puzzled, eyes blue and deep. “Ask me what?”
Derek tangled their fingers, hers were still cold from the outside. “Don’t tease me. I deserve it. Wholeheartedly. I felt like a wretch too long.“
“Why linger on that?”
”Odette, please. You were right.”
Odette didn’t reply. There wasn’t a teasing light in her eyes, nor a triumphant quirk of her lips.
Derek squeezed her hand, and it remained in his, soft and limp. No fight, no playful affront or memory of endless dancing lessons - Odette gracelessly tripping him up, and squeezing his hand for dear life, forever pulling faces at him behind their teacher’s back.
This woman was beautiful, her hair glinting like gold on the silky black fabric of her dress, while the medallion sat comfortably at the hollow of her throat. Beautiful, remote, and looking at him as if she had never been gone.
”Ask me again,” he repeated, not able to keep the steel from his tone.
”Derek,” she said, vulnerable.
”What else,” Derek demanded. “Odette, what else is there?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it again.
His jaw clenched. ”Exactly.”
It was the work of months of patience, that Derek did not cast her off right there and then. That moment he became a hunter again, and they didn’t miss a step when the waltz changed into a foxtrot.
“Who are you?” Derek continued on. “No, nothing to say? Did Rothbart send you? Or are you magic too?”
The helpless look on the woman’s face changed into something pinched, and she frowned at him. “It’s too late now.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Derek replied, as his eye fell on one of the tall windows passed her shoulder.
There was a white swan frantically tapping on the stained lead glass, and Derek, grinning like a mad-man, left the woman on the dance floor without a second glance.