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Rose By Any Other

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“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.

Chapter Text

“What else is there,” Derek said grandly, “that you aren’t already?”

Odette stared, cheeks flushed. The fight was suddenly taken out of her, and she felt lightheaded at the quick succession between hope and despair, before hope folded back behind her ribs. She imagined Derek could hear the desperate beating. “Which is what exactly?” she pressed on, as if there wasn’t an audience watching their every breath.

They as much on tender hooks as she was, while Derek stood tall and amused, the unapologetic center of attention.

“Are you fishing for compliments?”

“You are proposing,” Odette stated, with her heart in her throat, “Are you not? Is it not the custom to flatter?”

“I..,” Derek faltered, a frown on his face. “That was the proposal,” the frown deepened, a sudden crack in his confidence, “Odette, you are… I mean— you know.” He dragged his hand through his dark hair. “It’s like… And, you are,” he trailed off, as none of the words seemed enough. “You must know,” he concluded, then met her eyes in a beseeching manner. The boy peeking out from behind the man. How could she have thought one summer would have changed that?

“I don’t think I do.” Odette raised her eyebrows, glad to have unsettled him in return. “Now we both have things to think about.”

Derek stepped forward, but Odette held her ground, craning her face up. There was a thrill in having his undivided attention. It felt like his gaze was the only thing tethering her to the ground. As surely as when his hand had been on her waist, warm through the thin satin of her dress, guiding her across the dance floor as if on clouds. So easy to fall through.

She refused to be overwhelmed this time.

“If you have nothing more to say,” Odette said, spying her father over Derek’s shoulder. “Our last few days consisted of traveling, and I would like to retire now. You can ask me again tomorrow, or some other day. After all, the summer is long.”

“Odette,” Derek objected, baffled.

“What else,” she replied, meaningfully, “I too expect an answer, Prince Derek.” Then Odette offered her hand, which he took with a bow, his lips ghosting over her fingers, before lingering on the back of her hand. The blue of his eyes glittering behind dark lashes, the twist of his mouth, full of that familiar challenge.

Good, Odette thought as she left the ballroom; the playing field has evened out again.

Chapter Text

“I make an everlasting vow,” Derek exclaims, every bit as confident as when he had declared himself before. Righteous, but in love. Yet how  can a tone perfectly convey a change of heart? How can it acknowledge a history, while promising a future.

The crowd is murmuring around him, still somewhat reeling from Odette’s arrival. She had been presumed dead by all, and the specter of a ghost clings to her like a shadow.

At Derek’s side, the woman preens, blonde hair gently curling around a heart-shaped face, while her black dress sets of the clear blue of her eyes, the delicate rose of her cheeks.

She smiles a sharp, little smile, and doesn’t hear the words unspoken.

To her, Derek makes his vow, and  he sees the beauty, but that doesn’t blind him to the things that make her beautiful.

To her, the girl who single-handedly brought his tree-house down, and has the scars to prove it; the one who is ruthless at cards, but would softly read to her father by the light of the hearth; she who never was afraid to laugh at him, yet had to take extra dance lessons, because she kept stepping on his toes; the swan he almost shot out of the sky, before she fearlessly led him to the lake; to the braids he pulled, the care-free sound of her laughter, her courage and bullheadedness, to the tiny flecks of green in her eyes and her summer freckles.

To her, who still loved him, despite it all.

And so, while there isn’t a transformation inside the ball room; outside the castle walls, the swan, Odette, feels the familiar tingle of it in her wings. For magic lives in the hollows between the words, in the weight of it, magic can’t be fooled.

The spell lifts, why wouldn’t it? For Derek’s vow is true and his intent is clear.