A/N: written for a CW class. Not much, it was a last-minute assignment and I posted it on a whim. Cinderella flash-fiction.

mink & lace

They reminded me of tropical fish, though I'd never seen any, but I remembered some from the books that father had read to me when I was a little girl. Tropical fish, tropical birds – so colorful they were, so beautiful, I almost couldn't see them. They were all birds masquerading as humans, decked out in their feathers and their silk. I was afraid they'd slip away if I tried to touch them. I almost couldn't see them.

I foolishly sought a familiar face, but they were all covered by masks. I bowed my head in shame. I didn't have a mask, but I was here. I didn't know exactly why I was here, or why I'd begged and cried to come here. I was nothing to these beautiful creatures in the fur and lace, in their gossamer slippers gliding on the palace dance floor. I was awkward, and ungainly and ungraceful. I did not belong here.

I wanted to run very far away, but I couldn't stop staring. I couldn't bear to tear my eyes away from them all. I knew that they would be among the faithful in this procession, but I couldn't seem them amidst the feathers and crowns and gowns. I couldn't hear above the music and the talking. My shiny, beautiful white dress was itchy. This wasn't a wedding, what was I doing here? I did my best to hide in the back, away from the fur coats and the lace and beads. I tried my best to meld into the background but I stood out, so sparkly and bright. I didn't want to stand out.

I almost couldn't see them . . . I almost went blind . . . I . . .

The music stopped abruptly, mid-chord. I started for the doorway, fully intending to run away as fast as I could. I didn't want to be here anymore, among this selfish beauty in the palace ballroom. I was low, and ash, and filth, and I slept by the hearth and cinders. I belonged with the cinders and the dirt. I wanted to be in the gardens, pretending to dance. I'd rather pretend to be here and pretend just like it had been in my imagination, not this dangerous masque ball where I could just dance among the apple trees and orchids and never have to prove anything to anyone ever again. I'd wished too far; I was not only out of my league but completely beyond the line. I didn't belong. I didn't want to be here!

The music had stopped, and people were hushed. There was a murmuring. I stole a glance at the tropical fish and their consorts, and they were looking at me. They had turned to me in my fairy-gown, without masque, without decency. They must know who I am. She must have recognized me and told them. I had to leave. I had to run far away!

Panicking, I stumbled away from the royal aviary. Away from the sovereign silk and scented ribbons. A blood-red bird's red hair blew into my face, and I backed away, entangled. I was making a scene. I bowed my head in shame.

A hand touched my shoulder, and I turned around. But it was not my wicked stepmother or one of my sisters who was there. It was the most beautiful royal bird yet.

And then I danced, amidst the mink and lace, unafraid for the first time in a very long while. Unrecognized, I danced, and I smirked. I couldn't see them anymore. They couldn't see me at all.