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Let’s Not Be Star Crossed Lovers

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Clara’s heart stopped when she locked eyes with the woman across the room. She wasn’t sure it started again as the woman approached her, stopped just a little too close, backed off a little, said, “It’s been a long time, darling.”

Nothing came out. It’s been a long time? That’s what you have to say to me? She nodded, and, shock wearing off enough to abruptly remember party protocol—really, remember old habit, not protocol, more than current circumstance—dropped her eyes to the floor.

She remembered, too, the way this Not Stranger went to tilt her chin up when she wanted her to look at her, but this time, it stopped at little more than a twitch of her hand. “How are you?”

How am I? Echoed words just floated around in her head meaninglessly. “A little busy. Ma’am.” She cringed at the address. It meant, I don’t know you. Not anymore. It meant, You are a party guest and I will address you as such even though I know you don’t actually like ma’am. It meant, I lost the privilege of calling you Mistress as I pleased. Too many years ago and not enough.

“Of course.” Gave an uncharacteristically self conscious smile, looked away. She used to look at Clara when she smiled like that. Now, she looked at nothing. But her eyes settled on the white serving the house ribbon, then the collar that it wound around, the padlocked black chain. She gestured at it, very slightly, not even approaching the possibility of touching it. “Whose is it?”

Clara swallowed. “Ms. Ezri’s. Ma’am.”

Surprised bristle. “It’s the host’s?”

“Yes, ma’am.” How did she even get into this party? She didn’t know Clara was Ezri’s now, wasn’t on the guest list; but she’d probably gotten an idea of Ezri’s high public standing; she must have been someone’s plus one… “Who are you here with?” came out despite herself.

“Friend,” she shrugged, which meant, Nothing more. Which meant she might be glad to run into Clara. Which meant—

Ezri, sensing that Clara’d been talking to someone a little too long, materialized next to her, a possessive, protective arm around her waist.

She obviously recognized that look, had worn the, What do you want with my Clara? look plenty of times. Smiled again, but it was the getting out of trouble veil, a little unnecessary. “I didn’t mean to keep her.”

No, you didn’t, did you?

Ezri wouldn’t know who she was. Clara’d told herself she’d locked that chapter of her life down. Didn’t exactly sit around dwelling on old pictures with Ezri, who might let her. “Are you here with someone?” Ezri asked, suspicious of the stranger, but granting the benefit of the doubt.

“Yes. I’m Branwen’s, ah, plus one.”

Clara felt herself relax a little further despite herself. Branwen was mostly straight, firmly on the left side of the slash, happily monogamous. There was nothing else she would be looking for.

“Welcome, then.” Warm, sets you at ease smile. “My name’s Ezri; I’m hosting.” She shook her hand. “You’ve met my slave, Clara?”

Nod, another smile, but it was the real one again, and she did look at Clara this time, both in on something just between them.

Clara’s heart skipped several more beats. She remembered this feeling.

“Yes. We’ve met.”

Ezri obviously sensed a lot more in that glance.

Clara introduced her with a helpless gesture. “My ex wife, Jen.” There was nowhere good for the title in that sentence. She noticed her own choice of wife, too.

“Ah.” Ezri clearly found that interesting, but didn’t make it too weird. “I’ve heard good things,” she smiled at Jen, because it was true, and Ezri could be kind to anyone, and Clara wished it were that simple.

“I’ve heard you throw a good party,” Jen said lightly, because it was true, because she could diffuse any situation if she wanted to, and Clara wished it were that simple.

“Speaking of which. If you don’t mind,” said Ezri, and gave Clara a nudge. A little busy. Party to serve.

“Of course.”

But Ezri left them there, having created the opportunity for Clara to leave, off to another conversation in the other direction, and Clara had been heading for the kitchen, and had admittedly barely shifted that way when Jen said, “Clara,” softly. Her name still sounded so right, coming from her.

She looked at her.

“I’m happy for you. Really.”

“No, you’re not.” She couldn’t control her emotions anymore.

Pain flashed across Jen’s face, there and gone. “I just wanted you to get to be happy.” She reached to touch her, stopped short, so close that a tiny static shock sparked between them. She laughed helplessly, sadly. Yes, the spark was still there. A lot more than sparks.

“Don’t touch me,” Clara said very belatedly, even though she wanted nothing more right now than for Jen to touch her, better yet to say, You’re mine, and I’ll touch you however I please, even though just the thought stirred up unfathomable guilt. She did love Ezri, really. More than anything in the world. The way she had loved Jen, once upon a time. And maybe…

But it was different, with Ezri, starting with this event she was neglecting serving and violating every rule of. They’d still made it work for Clara’s masochism in the end: pretty looking, mind consuming protocol, and elegant, demanding service, the perfect torment of quietly suffering in an outward dynamic style she didn’t desire, out of love, but sometimes… she got nostalgic for the simpler version.

The version Jen claimed had crashed and burned. They’d mimicked the more traditional abusive marriage, until Jen feared they’d crossed the line of mimicking and told her to run, for her own sake, and, after a lot of pleading, Clara did run, all the way to the opposite coast, because, ultimately, she’d always done everything Jen told her to do. And yet, she hadn’t run far enough. But she'd known that, hadn't she? 

“Of course.” Now, Jen withdrew her hand. Clara hated that she felt disappointed. She closed her eyes and thought of Ezri, and then looked at Jen and asked:

“Is there anything else I can do for you, ma’am?” and tried, as usual, to feel nothing about it in the moment at all, to project only the eagerness to serve.

Jen shook her head slowly. Gave a vague, sad wave of dismissal.

Clara curtsied without looking at her again, practiced, elegant, perfect, miserable, and went to fetch the long overdue round of drinks.