Rydia had decided months ago that she liked standing on the balcony above the ballroom far more than she enjoyed socializing below. After all, she wasn't much of a dancer - she kept stumbling over her own skirts and stepping on people's toes - and she wasn't much of a conversationalist either. Oh, she could think of lots of things to say, and usually she didn't have any problem speaking her mind. But the people down there - besides her friends, of course - were the sort of people who didn't speak their minds at parties. They made an awful lot of polite small talk over practically nothing, and that was something that she simply could not get used to, no matter how hard she tried. It was boring, and she wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Still, she didn't want to stay up there all night. She'd go back after the crowds had stopped moving about so much, when people were either dancing or gathering in their own little groups. Her friends understood her, knew that she wasn't trying to be unforgivably rude by being direct. They knew that living among monsters didn't make her a fool, but that it did mean that she was out of touch with what was considered polite society. They were the main reason that she was there, after all; it wasn't as if Cecil and Rosa could just leave the castle for a couple of days to have a few drinks and reminisce with their friends.
For now, though, she liked standing and watching the dance. It was funny, watching people move like little clockwork figures, twirling in time to the pretty waltz. It almost made her wish that she could dance. Maybe she could ask one of her friends to teach her -
"Hey," a familiar voice said behind her. "You're bored too, huh?"
"Edge?" she asked, and turned - only out of habit, since she knew that she'd see absolutely nothing. Edge was far too good at blending in with shadows for Rydia to be entirely comfortable around him. She didn't like talking to someone that she couldn't see, or who could disappear the moment she looked away for a split second.
"The one and only." He chuckled. "Miss me?"
Rydia snorted - another thing that she never could've done without being treated like a monster in the crowd below - and rolled her eyes. That was her usual answer to that question; she figured it was about as much as it deserved.
"Hmph. Fine. Be that way. I'm just trying to break up the monotony." He laughed again. "I'll never understand the point of dressing like a fop and traveling for miles just to come to a stuffy old castle with a bunch of other fops. Why bother showing off about something so stupid?"
Rydia turned and stared straight at where she knew Edge was, in the most shadowy corner of the alcove. "If you hate them so much, then why are you here?"
"Because if I didn't come, my chancellor would garrote me," he answered, his voice so casual that it was difficult to tell whether or not he was joking. "He keeps going on and on about establishing friendly relationships with other nations. As if I care what anyone thinks about me or my country, anyway."
Obviously, Rydia thought, but kept her mouth closed. It wasn't as if she completely disagreed with Edge; most of these sorts of gatherings were boring. Still, any opportunity to see her old friends again was a good thing. It was really very kind of them to go to such trouble to send her an invitation; Cecil and Rosa had spent some time finding a magical method of sending messages to underworld, since of course a regular court messenger would've had a difficult time finding her. And she might not be a princess, but she wasn't so graceless as to spend the entire evening standing alone and making snide comments.
"I mean, just look at that man with the silver hair and the big fur cloak, right down there," he continued. "He looks like he crawled into the body of an enormous cat, doesn't he?"
She turned her head to look, and raised an eyebrow as she spotted the man at once; the reddish fur on his back was very hard to miss. "Well... he does look a bit silly," she admitted.
"A bit?" Edge snorted. "I'd wager that he stole that cloak from his grandmother."
Rydia giggled a tiny bit, and then immediately felt guilty. She felt uncomfortable there, yes, and she did think that some of the other guests looked ridiculous. But she could hear her mother's voice in her head telling her to be polite, and just because she felt uncomfortable didn't give her the right to make fun of them, did it? Besides, Edge had a way of getting on her nerves. "Could you just stop it, please?"
"What's the problem? It's not like they can hear me up here." He laughed again. "Why are you so uptight all of a sudden? Maybe you need to loosen up a bit."
"Or maybe you ought to care a little about what people think of you."
"What about you, then? You're up here all the time -"
"But I'm not a princess," she shot back. "That's the difference between us, isn't it? And it's why that 'old man' probably gets so mad when you spend all of your time bothering me and making fun of people, instead of actually talking to anyone else."
"Really? I always figured it was because he was an old stick-in-the-mud."
She closed her eyes and counted to five, half-hoping that when she opened them again there wouldn't be any more ninjas in the shadows. "Come on, Edge! Can't you ever be serious about anything?"
He sighed. Rydia blinked, not sure whether or not she believed her ears, until she heard him talk again. "I don't care that you're not a princess, okay?" he said, his voice oddly quiet. "And I'm being completely serious. I don't like having to act like a King all the time. I don't like having to watch everything I say and do just to please everybody else. How often do you think I get to do anything for myself? Why should I have to spend all my time worrying about what people think of me?"
"Edge..." she said, exasperated... then paused. Maybe he had a point, anyway. She knew what she'd think, if someone had started following her around and telling her what she ought to be doing all the time, how she ought to talk to people, how she ought to dress... he probably would've lasted about ten minutes before she turned around and threatened to singe his eyebrows off if he didn't shut up. Edge didn't even have that luxury. He had his family to think of. "All right," she said. "I think I get it."
"Really?" he asked. He sounded almost startled.
"Yeah." She kept looking at him, though. She could almost see him now, a gleam of light in the shadows. Somehow she felt as if... as if she'd actually made a connection with him for a change, as if they'd actually had a conversation instead of him talking and her not listening. "Really."
Edge finally took a step out of the shadows. He seemed suddenly shy in his black dress uniform, brushing a hand through his messy platinum-blond hair, and he didn't say a word.
She took a deep breath, took the plunge. "Say, Edge," she started. "Maybe it'd be easier to go down there together. You know how to dance, right?"
"...yeah," he said, and grinned again. "Sounds like a good idea to me." He held out his arm.
She took it, smiled mischievously at him. "Just don't get mad if I step on your feet by mistake, okay?"
"Sure, as long as you don't get mad if I kick you."