The impossibly blue sky stretched on for an eternity but still managed to kiss the flower petals dancing on the wind. A scene worthy of poetry.
So perfect and delicate, like puppets dancing on invisible strings.
Topaz turned to smile at his playmate. Light lifting up his heart and making his world expand as far as the sky.
“You’re fast.” Ruby chuckled, panting and bent over his knees as he finally had a reprieve from their impromptu race.
Crimson hair framed an ashen face. Ruby caught his breath and smiled warmly at Topaz. “Were you trying to abandon me?”
Topaz flushed. He shook his head hurriedly and rushed back to Ruby’s side, concern knitted its way into his expression. “...you’re tired.”
Ruby waved it off with a laugh. He wrapped an arm around Topaz’s shoulder and theatrically collapsed, taking the pair of them to the ground.
“...heavy…” Topaz grumbled, struggling under the weight of his friend. Ruby rolled over and lifted his gaze to the sky.
Topaz was struck by the sight.
The flowers.The sky. Ruby’s smile.
It all felt so surreal.
“You’re turning nine next week.” Ruby said, rolling onto his side and grinning at Topaz. “What would you like for your birthday?”
Why does his age matter?
It bothered Topaz. The reminder. Nine was the deadline his father had given him. Anxiety spiked in his chest.
“...I don’t want anything.” Topaz grumbled and turned away.
Ruby laughed and the laugh turned into a cough.
The strings on the puppets were drawn taut.
Topaz watched as his playmate hacked up blood, wretchedly sobbing as each cough wracked through his entire body and drew yet more dark blood to stain the flowers, the sky, his hands. The servants came and gathered the prince in their arms and Topaz was sent home.
Back home to his father.
Lavender eyes blinked open slowly to take in the familiar sight of the ceiling above.
He hated dreams. They took the memories that he couldn’t forget and warped them into ones he never wanted to see.
Over a decade in the past and still so vivid in his thoughts.
Obnoxious. Miserable. Disgusting. Topaz grit his teeth and gracefully sat up in bed.
He had to be careful about his movements. There was no telling when he was being watched. There was no telling what the day would bring. He had to be graceful and elegant, there was simply no other choice.
It was what his father wanted.
What a miserable dream. Topaz replaced his snarl with a serene smile. One never knew who was watching.
“Young Master Topaz.”
Topaz turned cold eyes towards the otherwise silent servant staying at his bedside.
He got lucky today. It was just Spinel.
None of the servants in the household were particularly kind and all of them reported everything to her father but Spinel was one of the few who might neglect to report a slip in Topaz’s behavior. Feeling heartened, Topaz replied calmly without ruminating on his earlier scowl hopeless.
Spinel bowed as he spoke. “The royal seamstress has arrived.”
Topaz’s heart shook.
Every little thing that brought the fated day sooner set him on edge.
“I will be down shortly. You may go.”
Spinel nodded obediently and Topaz crossed the floor to the window. The last vestiges of early dawn were still dancing in the sky.
The red looked like Ruby’s hair.
It looked far more like Ruby’s blood.
Topaz counted in his head as he watched the hustle and bustle of the city beyond the estates' walls dispassionately.
Thirty seconds of free time.
After that, it would be time to begin his day. His schedule was strictly controlled by the duke, his father, and there was no room for rest. No time to read the books that he’d stashed inside of his mattress. No time to lose himself into a fantasy.
There was only cold reality.
Topaz’s hand touched the glass but he hid his disdain.
He’d always hated the sky. Stretching on forever. Taunting him with effortless freedom, like birds and flower petals and the wind. A tactlessly cruel entity.
The door opened just as he finished counting to thirty.
Topaz didn’t bother to check who it was. It wouldn’t be Spinel and that meant he would need to be his best.
The water was cold when they washed his face but the fabric of today's clothes were soft and easy to move around in. It was indeed a lucky day.
“It’s so good to meet you, Young Master Topaz!”
The seamstress appeared to be kind. A chubby face and a broad grin, warm hands that guided Topaz gently to the center of the room while she took measurements. Babbling the whole way with a broad smile on her face.
The audacity she showed around her ‘betters’ was indicative that she was certainly one of Ruby’s people. He was gentle to a fault. Kind beyond reason.
It would have been better if he was unkind.
Topaz remained stoic and elegant under the onslaught, only caught off guard when she mentioned Ruby.
“His highness the prince mentioned you were shy but you really are a quiet one, aren’t you?”
His mind went blank.
He knew there was an answer he was supposed to give. Something that would please his father. Probably something to chastise the woman for daring to speak out of turn.
His father had eyes and ears everywhere.
“...he talks about me?”
Topaz paled as the words slipped out, the woman happily bursting into a babble about all sorts of things the prince had said. Despite his weak curiosity, he couldn’t hear a word of it.
All he could hear was the weight of the gazes around him.
His father would hear about this.
Topaz felt faint.
Romantics like to call love the strongest emotion. Even sometimes hate. The truth of the matter was that all emotions could be strong or weak. A weak love can be fickle, but it is still a sincere love.
The strength of any given emotion has much more to do with the intensity behind it than the name of the emotion.
The strongest emotions that lived in Topaz’s heart were fear and love.
Both crippled him.
“I’m very happy for the both of you.”
Topaz looked into the kindly face of the seamstress and all he saw was Ruby’s ashen one as he coughed up blood.
Red. Like the red of the sunrise. Like the red of legends and myths and fiction.
Topaz liked red. He also hated red. Most of all, he feared red.
“May the pillar bless you.”
Topaz remembered himself and pushed the seamstress away, glaring down at her haughtily. “Who are you to bless us?” He asked, his voice perfectly cold.
What a pointless act of cruelty.
He would already be punished for his earlier mistakes. There was no escape for him. Although chastising the woman properly would spare her from his fathers wrath.
It didn’t make Topaz feel any less nauseous.
A kind woman full of warmth did not belong in this cold household.
It was better to send her away as quickly as possible.
Kunzite had ducked out of the room already to report everything to the duke.
Eyes and ears everywhere. If he didn’t dance perfectly like a doll on strings, the consequences were clear.
Topaz couldn’t even be mad. There were certainly some in the duke's employ who took a sadistic interest but no one had a choice. Topaz couldn’t be killed, he still had use to the duke. No one would miss a servant who disappeared.
No one would even look.
In the end they were all just puppets.