"Did he leave you alone?"
Angelique starts, turning from her rapidly emptying champagne glass to see Miss—Miss something...she only remembers her first name, Lily. She's as lovely as the flower.
"Oh," she says. "He's left you to the wayside as well, then? He tires quickly, I'm afraid."
She doesn't mean to sound rude, but the alcohol has loosened her tongue from any constraints it may once have had, and she's....afraid, afraid to lose the security she's been starting to find in Dorian.
Lily's holding a drink in her hand too this time, though Angelique's fairly sure her escort earlier hadn't been. She dips behind the dainty glass now, looking embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," she says, "I guess I probably seemed a bit forward with him. It's just he seemed so familiar, though I suppose I can't have met him before. I'm new to the city, you see, and now I'm doing everything all wrong."
Angelique breathes in through her nose. It's hard to stay mad at someone so earnest. "Don't apologise—Dorian's easily taken in by new experiences, and he loves beautiful women."
Lily glances over the top of her glass, meeting Angelique's eyes for the first time this night.
"Well, he must," she says. "After all, he's throwing this whole party for a beautiful woman."
Angelique holds her gaze steadily; considering whether she wants this conversation with the pale woman with secrets in her eyes.
Her head hurts. Maybe she needs some water instead of another glass of champagne. She glances around to the pretty twirling couples, colorful dresses bouncing on curved lovely women, dark sophistication on the men. Perhaps she needs some fresh air. "Come with me for a moment, Lily, won't you?"
Lily blinks and puts the glass down almost instinctively, like someone accustomed to being told what to do. She looks at Angelique, lips parted in curiosity. Exquisite. Angelique extends a gloved hand, and Lily takes hold with a stronger grip than expected.
Making a point of not looking around for Dorian, Angelique leads Lily out of the room, through the curtained halls, and outside to the lamp-lit street. The air is cool and damp, like right before rain, but the sky is clear, the full moon whisking away shadows and secrets. Lily's face is in sharp relief, and Angelique watches her wide eyes. "I'm sorry," she says. "I needed a moment away from the crowds, I think."
"And I suppose you thought a simple country girl might need a rest from high society as well?"
Angelique feels herself laugh. "You have a wit about you when you're not with that man, you know."
Lily's eyes drop to the cobblestones. "My cousin has been very kind to me here. Very patient."
"Well, anyway," Lily says quietly, "you wouldn’t really be wrong. I like dancing, though I've only just learned it, and I like the drinks too though I know Victor—my cousin—doesn't care for them. But it's all so new, and I spend half the time worried I'm going to do something horribly embarrassing."
Angelique feels goose pimples rising on her arms, but she doesn't want to go inside. It's quite rare that's she's this close to women like Lily—though, she's not quite sure what sort of woman Lily is.
"Life's too short to spend it so concerned with what other people are thinking of you," she says. "At any moment we could get struck by a carriage or mugged by some desperate criminal or mauled by one of those dreadfully fiendish murderers on the loose. So society be damned, I say."
Lily laughs, taken aback by her morbidity but looking impressed with her loose tongue. "You always say what you want. It's very brave."
"I often try to do what I want, as well."
"That's brave of you, too."
"Perhaps. But sometimes doing what you want—regardless of what proper society thinks of it—is the only way to survive."
Lily is looking at her now, head cocked to the side ever so slightly. "What if," she says, then stops.
"What if what?"
"What if I don't know what I want? I still feel so...new. I know I did things, before, and maybe I should still do them. Still want them. But I can't tell."
She's referencing specific events, clearly, but then so was Angelique just a moment ago. Perhaps they can still find some shared ground. "I don't think anyone should have to continue doing or feeling what they used to. In fact a great deal of trouble can occur when someone tries to pretend to be something they are not."
Lily's eyes are glinting in the shared light of the moon and streetlamps, expression unreadable.
"Everything feels so new tonight," she says. "Like anything is possible, even things I thought were only dreams."
Their eyes meet for the second time since their introduction, and Angelique gazes at her, steady and slow.
Lily kisses her, then, and it's as unexpected as it is inevitable. Her lips are cold, colder than they should be from the night's temperature, a chilling bone-deep sort of cold. Her breath, though, is hot and quick. Lily jumps back after what can't be more than seconds, one pale hand raising to cover her mouth. Her eyes are exhilarated and scared. Angelique's heart is racing in her chest, heat filling her body like in one of those bawdy love poems the women she works with pass around. She hasn't been kissed by a girl since she was twelve years old. (That girl had thought she was a boy; Lily sees her for who she is now.)
"Don't be ashamed," Angelique says. "Remember what I said about doing what you want?"
"But what about what you want?"
Angelique smiles. "Sometimes, like you, I don't know what it is I desire. But I'm always willing to try new things."
This time it is Angelique that leans in, and the kiss she presses to Lily's cold lips is gentle, exploring. Lily gasps and her eyelids flutter shut and then it's like she lets her body take over. She opens her mouth to Angelique and Angelique lifts a hand to Lily's breast, pressing above her heart. She's still too cold but there's a spark of warmth there, and Lily rises with the touch, her own hands shyly ghosting Angelique's hips.
Angelique knows in the back of her mind that maybe she shouldn't be doing this. The sun may be down but they're standing on a public street and isn't this dangerous? (Yes, but so is kissing Dorian; so is this ball. Sometimes the only way to live is dangerously.) Lily's teeth catch on her lip and this time Angelique's the one gasping. Lily bites again and Angelique lifts her face and gently guides her towards Angelique's neck, pressing her own face into the gentle curve of Lily's shoulder. Lily gets the hint and mouths tentatively at Angelique's neck. Angelique murmurs "yes" against Lily's collarbone and that gets her braver, biting and pulling at the soft skin of Angelique's neck. Angelique lets her work there into she slows, then cups her hand under her chin and pulls their bodies close together, kissing her open-mouthed again.
There is still a coldness to her flesh but there is an excitement to the way her body moves, and it is another long moment before they step apart once more. Lily's chest is leaping like she just ran, and Angelique knows she probably looks much the same. She would've expected Lily to blush but she's barely flushed. Her eyes are sharp, wide.
"How was that new experience for you, then, Miss Lily?"
Lily smiles, slow and big. "Why, I think I could grow to quite like London, Miss Angelique."
"The city does have its charm."
The magic of the moment is broken by the startling crack of a streetlamp going out. They both jump, and then Lily giggles at her own shock. The noise is another reminder, though, that they are not alone in a world without consequences.
"Perhaps we should return inside. I may have been temporarily abandoned by my dance partner, but your cousin will surely be missing you."
The word 'cousin' has an unsurprising and immediate effect on Lily, though she doesn't instantly began singing his praises like she did earlier.
"Yes," she says, thoughtfully. "Yes, we probably should." She exhales slowly, reaching up to make sure her hair is in place. Angelique reaches up to her as well, guiding a pin that's slipped from its position.
"You look lovely," she says.
"You too," Lily says, and takes one of Angelique's dangling curls into her hand, tucking it behind her ear.
They spend another moment like that, just standing in the silence and looking at each other. Then Angelique proffers her hand once more, and pulls Lily back inside.
At the end of the hallway they nod at one another, smiles quirking at their lips, and part ways. Lily heads towards her cousin but Angelique isn't feeling particularly inspired to go find Dorian just yet. She lifts another glass of champagne from a passing server, smiling gratefully at the young man as he leaves to restock his tray. She sips the liquid, not really tasting it but not wanting to lose the pleasant feel of mild intoxication. She fingers the side of her neck where Lily bit her; she can tell already that a bruise is forming.
Angelique smiles into her drink. She has always liked a lover who leaves a mark—and perhaps, she thinks, Lily has left hers in more ways than one.