Summary: How does life go on now that the dancing is done?
Fandom: Fairy Tales (trad)
Original story: The Right Sort (of Nothing) by lferion
Notes: Much thanks to my absolutely wonderful beta dramaturgca.
She knows what her sisters think of her. Anmaryse the dull, Anmaryse the clueless, vapid Anmaryse. She knows what they think of her and she can't care, because smiling and laughing and flirting and giggling are the only things that get her through the day. She never stops smiling because if she did she's afraid she would start crying and she doesn't think she'd be able to stop. They've been dancing for so long.
She hates it when a new Challenger arrives. All the Challengers do is raise the hopes of the others and she isn't sure she can stand to watch them get dashed again. She gave up hope what feels like ages ago and it hurts to see the way the others gather around Nana Forbes and eagerly take in all of her gossip. It hurts to watch Sophy fall to pieces with only Liesl there to pick her back up.
Afterwards, when the Challenger has won his quest, she walks in what feels like a fog. She can't connect to a world that doesn't involve nights spent dancing and days spent smiling. She still smiles, if only because she doesn't remember how not to, but she doesn't feel happy. She doesn't feel the relief that her sisters feel. It's good that she's become so well versed in hiding her true feelings.
She sleeps in fits: an hour here, an hour there, waking in the middle of the night to roam the halls and balconies of the palace. In this, at least, she's normal as it's rare to wake in the princesses' chambers without at least two other beds empty. It seems that none of them remember how to sleep through the night anymore. What sleep she does get is filled with dreams, crammed with the haunting music of her former nights as she tries to run from it. As the palace turns its attention to the upcoming wedding, she finds out of the way corners to curl in during the day. With all the hustle, no one notices her missing.
Those days pass in a blur of exhaustion and despair. She finds it odd that now that she's supposed to be happy, she can't be. She wears the same mask she's always worn and goes through her daily tasks as well as possible, but it's hard to connect to the excitement around her. Her sisters don't seem to have the same problem, even Teretha smiles and laughs now. Anmaryse finds reasons to walk by herself in the gardens at night rather than sitting with her sisters as they plan the wedding.
Sophy looks so happy it hurts to be near her, her daring Challenger appearing stunned, but delighted, by her side. The wedding is as gorgeous as they planned, but she can barely stand to wear her dress. Her shoes fit perfectly, but her feet still feel like they're on fire. She smiles and nods at the groomsman next to her as she walks down the aisle, eleven bridesmaids for their sister, all dressed up as pretty as dolls.
Once it's over, Sophy and her new husband run down the aisle to the waiting carriage. They won't leave for the tiny villa in the mountains set aside for them just yet though. First, there is the dinner and then the party. She manages to lose her escort on the way to the carriages. If she's lucky no one will notice that she's gone. It'll be easy enough for her sisters to assume she in another carriage, they have no reason to think she'd miss the dancing.
She hasn't danced since their liberation. She hasn't listened to music, not even hummed to herself while walking. The idea terrifies her more than anything else. Once she's out of sight of the guests, she kicks her shoes off, leaving them to sit in a rose bush as she hikes up her dress and runs. Runs like she does in her dreams, runs until she's out of breath and lost among the plants. She collapses and, for what feels like the first time since the dancing started, she falls asleep.
She wakes to the sound of music. For a second she thinks that she must be stuck in her nightmares before recognizing the lily pond next to her. With that thought, she is spurred back into a desperate run. Much like her dreams, it is the music that she runs from, but unlike there she finds her escape. The palace walls muffle the sounds and by the time she reaches the princesses rooms the sound has faded completely. Once inside, she slams the door closed and pushes a small couch in front of it. Eventually, her absence will be noticed and she won't run the risk of being dragged down to the party.
The fear of being forced to dance has taken hold of her completely. In a panic, she strips out of her dress and throws it onto her balcony, grateful that her rooms are on the opposite side of the palace from the reception. She barely pauses before running to the fireplace and grabbing the tinder laid out there. It's the work of moments to set the dress ablaze.
From there, she runs to her closet and in a frenzy she throws each of her dresses onto the fire. They catch and burn, almost as eager to light as she is to see them do so. First are the fancy dresses, the ones they could force her to wear to the ball instead and from there her everyday dresses, the ones she wears to her daily classes and around the palace, lastly, the old dresses, the ones shoved into the back of the closest when they become too tattered or stained to wear anymore. Each and every one of them goes onto the fire.
It's only once they are all burning that she stops moving. Panting, she sprawls on the balcony watching as the silk and the cotton, the lace and the embroidery, every last stitch of it burns. The gold thread melts and the jewels clatter to the marble beneath the blaze. It's only then that she realizes she's crying. Deep, body wracking sobs, the kind she'd been so afraid of letting out. It's too late to stop them, so she welcomes them. Shivering in the night, dressed only in her underclothes, for the very first time she can remember, she feels free.