Golbez receives a most unusual gift from an unlikely person.
He watched him in the ballroom, dancing like typical humans do: a strange combination of grace and awkward innocence. It was almost ludicrous, since he wasn't completely human. Cecil was just like a child, he concluded, dancing like there was nothing else, like it was just him and Rosa. And he couldn't say he quite understood why. Were all humans so at peace when they danced?
Golbez felt a frown tug, only slightly, at the corners of his mouth. He had been trying to keep from scowling ever since his brother had caught him and told him immediately to 'lighten up'. It was a ball, after all. It was a party. It was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be his fun. Golbez's lips became a thin, pale line.
Nevertheless, a scoff forced its way past those firmly pressed lips.
The great wizard Golbez celebrating a birthday? His, no doubt. It had been his brother's idea to throw him a surprise party on some arbitrary day. "Normal people celebrate birthdays, Golbez," the young king of Baron had said. It barely qualified as a surprise. Golbez had figured out the secret days before. But for the sake of his brother's happiness, he figured he'd allow Cecil at least this one small pleasure and feign ignorance to the whole bothersome thing. And bothersome it was, for every one of Cecil's friends came - at Cecil's bidding, obviously. Why else would they bother themselves with the very man they had once banded together to stop? Golbez realized how much Cecil's friends must have cared for the young king to come to such a party (especially when it was for the onetime-evil-wizard-Golbez, of all people).
Or perhaps it is just a debt for them to pay by coming here to celebrate my birthday. Golbez felt himself shudder with the thought. His birthday? Hardly. Cecil just wanted it to be his birthday so he could make his older brother feel 'normal'. I'll never be normal, no matter how much you try, Cecil.
There was a giggle from the luminous Rosa as she was twirled by Cecil; her silk gown twirled after her, wrapping around her lithe figure. Yang was also dancing with his wife, surprisingly with plenty of elegance to spare (Golbez figured the monk-turned-king would have grace, for there was some sort of strange dance involved in fighting). Every now and then the king of Fabul switched dancing partners with Cecil.
A few times Golbez had noticed Rydia glancing towards him from her spot on the ballroom floor; it was a strange look, filled with pity, shyness and bit of apprehension. One time Golbez caught the glance, but her head turned away once again. Another frown came to his pale, dry lips. Why was she looking at him? He shifted awkwardly - something he was growing accustomed to in these past few months in Baron Kingdom. It wasn't as if he could complain, however. Why wouldn't she look at him? After all, it was with his orders that Kainazzo forced Cecil and Kain to burn down her village. Golbez shifted back to his left foot. How long ago had that been? It didn't matter, he realized. Time would never matter again, not to the people whose lives had been destroyed by evil's darkness and greed.
Golbez closed his eyes and tilted his head back against the wall, which he had been leaning on all night, arms folded and a permanent scowl on uneasy lips. Why did he come back here, to this damnable place, of all places? In some sort of sick, ironic way, he had nowhere else to go. And perhaps he didn't want to be anywhere else. Golbez opened an eye to the dimly lit ballroom.
Just as he did, Edge, trying his best to impress Rydia, tripped over her foot and fell face first onto the newly polished floor. A pale hand went over the young Caller's mouth, but try as she might, she couldn't suppress her soft giggles. Edge only rose to his feet seconds later, brushed himself off - all quite regally - and held out his hand for Rydia to take (the smile on his face was nearly unbearable for Golbez). The girl only shook her head, her green hair thrashing her face lightly.
Golbez smiled at that. Shot down again, eh, Edge?
His eyes closed again moments later, but the smile lingered behind on his dry lips. Why were his lips so dry, anyway?
He heard a chair scrape against the floor and the loud thud of a body finding its seat. It must have been Edge. What else was there for a newly appointed king to do after being shot down by a pretty girl? Join Kain and Cid's drinking game, no doubt. Golbez nearly thought of joining him, but there was a small cough suddenly and the skin-pickling sensation of someone standing in front of him. The wizard opened an eye once more (why bother with opening two eyes when it was probably only one of those little pesky wizard kids glaring at him again?). With a small grunt of surprise, his other eye shot open.
"So, you can smile. I was beginning to think Cecil was seeing something in you that wasn't there." Rydia was before him, hands on her hips and not a hint of anything genial on her pale face. "Enjoying yourself at somebody's expense again?"
Golbez didn't bat an eyelash. "Come now, girl. Weren't you the one laughing at him when he fell?"
Rydia's face looked surprised, then relaxed into a small, wry smile. "Yes, but it wasn't in your place to laugh at him. He was falling on the floor for me, you know." She grimaced a moment later, realizing how strange that comment must have sounded.
Golbez lazily closed his eyes. "I didn't laugh. I smiled." Then, before she could add anything else to the ridiculous subject: "Briefly."
There was nothing else from the girl then, no sounds of disagreement, no small but polite coughs. Golbez nearly thought that perhaps she had finally left him alone. And he would have let himself think that, too, if not for the smell of her perfume that was still lingering freshly in the air around him. He felt consumed by the heavy scent, and for a moment he couldn't breathe. His eyes opened quickly.
"Do you have to wear so much of that?" He snapped.
Rydia blinked and looked around, half expecting someone else to be standing next to her. Certainly he hadn't just said that to her. The girl glanced down at her dress and even poked and prodded it.
"I meant your perfume," Golbez said curtly. "Why do you feel the need to hide yourself behind such trivial things?"
"I wouldn't expect you to understand something like perfume." She sounded testy and almost childish. The dark wizard found himself almost smiling again. "Besides, I'm not hiding behind anything. You're the one who's hiding, Golbez."
Golbez felt his skin prickle once more with the sound of his name. Not many people had dared to speak it since he had arrived at Baron; only Cecil spoke directly to him and addressed him so informally. He was his brother and he had the privilege, after all. But the townsfolk didn't. Nevertheless, they would whisper his name contemptuously, like it was a curse that never should be spoken too loud lest he would rise to power again and conquer the world. Golbez watched the girl, half annoyed, half fascinated.
"Hiding? No. I'm certainly not doing /that/."
But Rydia continued talking, as if she had never heard his snide remark, as if there had never been a long and uneasy pause from the dark wizard. "And to think I was going to give you a present," she mumbled. "I didn't want Cecil to be the only one who did. He really went through a lot to give you this party-"
Golbez raised an eyebrow. "A present? From you?" There could be nothing else to describe his tone, other than complete and unabashed astonishment. It was almost like she had smacked him across the face. Truth be told, he probably would have been more comfortable with that.
Rydia collected herself quickly and turned around to walk away. Why was she bothering herself with Golbez? She had only walked over because she didn't like the way he had smiled when Edge fell (even though it had been funny), and she was only mumbling about gifts because she felt stupid for ever thinking of offering him anything. She barely knew the man, other than the greedy, dark part of him that the whole world seemed to be accustomed to.
But before she could get too far, she felt strong fingers wrap around her upper arm and a gentle tug back in the opposite direction.
Her skin felt cool under his touch. "Not that I'm interested... But what was the gift?" As much as he tried, however, Golbez's voice couldn't help but betray the small bit of fascination he now had for the whole predicament.
Rydia pulled away from him, brushed a few stray hairs away from her face and straightened her dress. She looked up at him through squinted, annoyed eyes. "A dance."
Golbez nearly fell back into the wall. "A... dance?"
Caught off guard in a rare non-Golbez moment? Rydia smiled. "Yes."
There was a quick click of her tongue, then a quiet sigh. "With the King of Baron's brother, for his birthday. But don't think I'm doing you any favors. It's only for Cecil's sake-"
"-that I even thought of... of..." Rydia choked on her words with big, green eyes. She quickly bit her tongue, praying to the gods that she didn't just hear him say 'all right'. Why didn't she just leave when she had the chance? Maybe she could have caught a dance with Edward or Kain or /anyone else/... "What?" She whispered feebly.
"I said /all right/. If it means that much to Cecil," he said sharply to the gawking girl. He shifted a foot impatiently. "Did you hear me, girl?" He looked as awkward as Rydia felt on the matter.
Rydia frowned. "I have a name."
Golbez grunted. "Are we dancing or not?" He quickly glanced to Cecil, off to the far right. The musicians now were playing a softer, more romantic song and the young king of Baron had Rosa's head resting against his shoulder, her soft curls falling down his back like a waterfall of gold. Perhaps if he saw Golbez dancing he would leave him alone about having a good time...
"I guess so-"
Golbez snatched Rydia's arm and pulled her onto the ballroom floor, where the rest of the room's happily dancing couples stared at them stupidly. Clumsily, he grabbed her hand in his and placed his other on her back, mirroring what the dancing people were doing - or /once were doing/, for now they were trying not to gawk at Golbez and the embarrassed girl in his arms. He felt as incredibly idiotic as he assumed he looked. The mighty dark wizard dancing? The thought nearly was enough to make him blush. And before he could properly arrange his feet (not that he knew how to, anyway), Rydia fell into him with a forceful thud. Golbez slipped on her long dress and stumbled into someone, who fell forward onto their own dancing partner. With a spin of the room and the people in it, Golbez felt himself lurch backwards; his legs couldn't support his body's new position and they finally gave way, toppling him onto the floor - Rydia, who had been clinging to him for dear life, joining him only seconds later.
The music stopped abruptly and everyone in the room had their eyes glued on the pair. And most of their faces were anything but mirthful. It wasn't because they fell, Golbez knew. It was because he had been the one who /made Rydia fall/. The dark wizard felt a groan pass his lips. Would this damnable night ever end?
Cecil and Rosa were just about the only ones who weren't glaring at him.
But before the worried king could make his way over to his brother, a quick snort, followed by a loud, nearly choking-like laugh, came from besides Golbez. Rydia, her head leaning against both her hands, was laughing harder than Golbez had ever seen anyone laugh. It was contagious, too, because the little wizard boy Palom was laughing as well. Of course he received a fairly nasty bop on his head, courtesy of his sister Porom. Cid's daughter, who had forced her father onto the floor for at least one dance, started giggling soon after. A few faceless people in the back began laughing, as well, and suddenly everyone else in the room was chuckling, or snickering, or smiling widely...
Everyone except for Golbez.
Most of the people went back to their dancing with large and shameless grins on their faces, and the music started up again as if it had never stopped to begin with. Rydia stood up slowly, making sure her dress was aligned properly and that none of the lace had been ripped. With a pull and poke and a dusting, her dress and hair were back to normal once again.
"Well," she began with a large smile on her pretty face. "That's not exactly what I wanted. Geez, Golbez. You're worse than Edge. Don't you know how to dance?"
He looked up at her warily, but said nothing.
She shook her head helplessly. "I'll take that as a no."
"Well, when you're destroying half of the world you don't exactly have the time to dance," he said thoughtfully, then quickly bit down on his lip. Of all the things to let pass his mouth, it had to be /that/, didn't it? Still on the floor, he peered up at the girl wisely. But rather than the expected frown and the strange look he thought he would surely receive, there was nothing on her face other than that wide and child-like smile.
The girl simply outstretched a hand to him.
Golbez felt his eyebrow quirk upward. "What are you doing?"
Rydia sighed and tapped her foot impatiently. "Are we dancing or not? I'll have to teach you. Better now then never, right?"
The wizard awkwardly climbed to his feet again, dusting off his pants and watching her with a confused half-frown. Still, he allowed her to take his left hand and place it gently on her back, then take his right hand in her own.
"Good." She smiled again and nodded her head swiftly. "Slow dancing is the simplest form of dance, you know. All you do is..." Rydia stepped gently to the right, then swayed carefully to the left, all the while Golbez following obediently after. "...Is move back and forth. Got it?"
Golbez nodded mutely, his dark eyes wide. It seemed so painfully easy.
Rydia, happy that her 'new student' got the gist of it, rested her head against his shoulder. Green hair flowed down his back. "Who knows? You may even enjoy it. Maybe I can teach you some other moves, too."
Golbez felt himself swallow hard. He was fairly certain that everyone else had heard that lump slide down his throat as well.
"Happy birthday, Golbez," she whispered.
The dark wizard was sure his feet would not hold his body's weight. Miraculously, and with a few quick adjustments of his footing, it did. Golbez began to feel himself slide, ever so slightly, into the simple rhythm of the music. It was almost intoxicating; the smell of her hair and that strange perfume, the hypnotic swaying, the nearly sappy music... With a quick glance to his right, he saw Cecil smiling at him. And as if against his will, Golbez felt his own lips pull upward.
"Thank you..." Then after a small pause: "Rydia."
For the first time that night, Golbez was beginning to think that this whole 'birthday' thing wasn't as bad as he first thought.