Elaine's Magic
As it turns out, Nikola is good at doing dishes. Elaine is definitely shocked. She wasn't expecting someone who's probably never done a chore in his life to pick up the task so quickly, but Nikola learns in no time. There's a slight period of him figuring out to do— with Elaine instructing—, but he makes sense of the directions with skill and speed that's nothing short of a surprise.
Before long, the two of them have fallen into a rhythm of helping each other. Scrubbing plates goes a lot faster when it's two people working, and Elaine is more than grateful for the help. She knows she'll just have something else to do when she's done, but still.
And Nikola follows her directions well. He treats her like an expert, like she knows what she's doing, and that's a feeling that Elaine isn't used to at all. No one, even the other servants, has ever given her much respect. It's always been that she's just a lowly person who no one has to listen to. It's easy to pick on someone who can't talk back, after all.
It's a total shock that a prince, of all people, would want to help her like this, but Elaine can't bring herself to complain. There's no reason why she would. As terrifying as it is to have someone so important scrubbing dishes by her side, there's a giddy feeling in her chest that won't stop.
"Am I doing okay?" Nikola asks a while in.
"Yes, more than. I'm surprised that you're picking it up so quickly!" she replies... and honesty comes easily.
Nikola laughs. "About that... everything seems to be easy for me. I don't think I've ever done anything that I didn't figure out in no time. It's kind of strange."
"R-Really? That sounds amazing. It'd be nice to be good at everything," Elaine sighs. "You're lucky."
"Well, kind of. The problem with being good at everything is that people expect it. They always say, 'of course you are', and it's never a shock. It's just what they know will happen."
There's something strangely sad in Nikola's tone. Elaine listens silently, still scrubbing the plate in her hands. She'd never thought of it that way. If anyone else had said it, it would have sounded arrogant, but Nikola once again seems nothing but genuine. Maybe it is hard on him. She still thinks that sounds better than her own situation, but... maybe it's rough in its own way to have that kind of skill.
Elaine opens her mouth to reply, but when Nikola turns to face her, his elbow bumps a plate a bit too close to the edge. It drops. Nikola tries to catch it, but it's too late.
Before it can hit the floor and shatter, the plate stops a couple of inches above the ground, surrounded by a faint, white glow.
Nikola stares. He looks from the plate to Elaine and says, "Is that... you?"
Elaine gulps. She gestures with two fingers and the plate floats toward her and into her hands. Once she's holding it, the light slowly fades away. "Y-Yes..." she says hesitantly, nervously. No one's supposed to know that she can use magic. For someone of her level to have any kind of skill, it would be strange. At best. If someone got the wrong idea, she'd look like she was trying to step above her station or be a threat. Either way, it'd be far too much attention for someone like her.
"You know magic? Who taught you?" Nikola questions.
"No one. I can just... do it. I don't remember when it started. I-I didn't want people getting the wrong idea, so I don't use it! I know someone like me isn't supposed to!' Elaine explains, then bites her lip anxiously. Will she be in trouble?
"Interesting. So it comes naturally to you? What can you do with it?" Instead of sounding angry, Nikola is curious once again.
"I can move small objects. That's about it. They can't be too heavy or too far away from me, but I'm not bad at controlling them. I just did it one day when I was little."
"Have you practiced?"
"A bit. Only when no one's around."
"It looks like you're pretty skilled... That's impressive. With no training, you seem to be good at it."
Nikola smiles at her. He sets his own plate down, wipes one wet, soapy hand on his shirt, then reaches out to pat Elaine's head once again with a tender touch. Instinctively, she closes her eyes and leans into a bit. How kind. Nikola has been nothing but kind to her since the moment she met him.
And... somehow, Regina flashes through her mind. Nikola will be marrying soon. He'll have a beautiful pride who's surely ten times as talented at anything Elaine could do. She'd be pathetic next to that person's magic, for sure.
Why does that matter?
"Th-Thank you," she stutters. "I'm happy to hear your praise, um... Niko." It's hard to say his name like that. The familiarity makes Elaine's heart pound. "But please, don't tell anyone!" she continues. "I don't want anyone to know."
"Of course. It'll be our secret," Nikola grins. Elaine sighs with relief. Leave it to him to be nice.
They return to the dishes after that. By now, the stack of plates is almost gone. When they're done, Nikola will probably leave. Elaine will be alone once again with nothing but the memory of the boy who's been so kind to her. Will she ever see him again? It seems like Nikola would want that, maybe, but it still feels like a dream that even this is happening.
Elaine focuses on her dishes. She doesn't want to think of this ending. Spending time with the prince is the best thing that's ever happened to her, and losing it would hurt. She'd be right back to where she started— and would never have it again.
But for now, the dishes aren't done, Nikola is right beside her, and everything is okay. She can smile for a bit longer.