"Aaaand one two three, two two three, three two three..."
Malory's feet ached and her body was covered in a thin layer of sweat that was definitely soaking through her tank top and dance shorts, but she never the less listened to her ballet instructor.
"Four two three, five two three, six two three. Higher, Miss Grace! You've fallen out of practice recently, we need to get you back into shape. Eight two three, nine two three!"
It was true, Malory hadn't been practicing recently due to her travels. Well, her hunting. She had needed to go to California for a few months to help her brother with the dragon population. She hadn't been in the right state of mind to remember to stand on her toes for thirty minutes before she went to bed, or sit in her splits during every meal she ate. Was that everyone's way to practice ballet? Hell no, but it was Malory's, and it had helped her.Some people might think ballet was dumb, something little girls did and frail gay men who wanted to flaunt their sexuality. And there was nothing wrong with that, buuut...Yeah, ballet kicks you in your balls each time you step on the dance floor and you will not recover for a good week afterwards. It was a great way for Malory to stay in shape, to hunt and run and fight with more ease. Her last class had been over two months ago, and her instructor hadn't been happy when she had come back.
"Where have you been? And what happened to your arm! It is a damn good thing you don't preform!"
Malory hated letting people see her scars, they were odd and misshapen and off putting. But it was far too hot in the dance studio to wear anything with long sleeves, so her scars were on full display for the instructor's disproving eyes. They thought that Malory was some sort of thrill junky, not taking the dance seriously, and they wouldn't be surprised to find Malory dead in a dumpster one day. But as a paying--well paying, goddammit--student, the instructor taught Malory like anyone else--until Malory collapsed from exhaustion in a pool of her own sweat and tears on the floor.
"Alright! That's enough for today."
Malory frowned as she stopped, and despite her panting, she looked at her instructor in confusion. "But...I didn't finish the routine yet."
"No, no you didn't, but you weren't going to make it to the end today, I could tell. Look--your arm is bleeding already and it's hardly been an hour."
Malory looked down at her left arm, the upper part of it wrapped in gauze and pale bandages. And sure enough, the bandages were starting to turn red after Malory's wound had opened while dancing.
"Not like it mattered if you finished your routine or not, Miss Grace, it's not like you're going to ever preform it."
Blinking quickly, she looked back at her instructor. Despite already being slightly taller than the instructor, Malory felt the need to straighten her spine against the cold stare from the person she was paying to teach her, train her.
"So what if I don't preform? I'm still your student and you're still my teacher. You can't just cut the lesson short--"
"What, like you haven't? It's been months since I've seen you, and in almost every other class we have, you run off before it's over. There can't be a 'family emergency' every week, Miss Grace. Now, there's no way for me to stop you from leaving, but there also nothing to stop me from leaving, too. Miss Grace, I didn't get into this business to watch a stocky girl with not a rhythmic bone in her body gallop about my room like she's riding a sick horse. I teach real dancers, real women, not...not you. As of today, I'm done being your teacher. You're going to have to find someone else to babysit you."
Malory stared at the instructor, her mouth agape as she tried to formulate a comeback, a snarky, determined reply about how she was a real dancer, a real woman, not a--! But nothing came out aside from an almost silent, strangled sound, as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her instructor simply stared back, holding Malory's gaze for a few moments, before they turned away with a sigh and started to pick up their bag.
"Have a good day, Miss Grace. Don't let the door hit you on your way out."
Malory didn't know how much time had passed as she had stood there, staring at the door her instructor had left from. It felt like hours, but it could have only been a couple of minutes, her sweat still warm on her skin. Her gaze slowly went down to the floor, across the smooth, shiny wood, to the mirrored walls that were on three of the four sides of the room. She met her own gaze, dull blue eyes looking back at her, and she saw...nothing worth looking at. Her skin was red and blotchy from exertion, her hair damp from perspiration as it clung to her face and neck, slowly falling out of the bun she had placed on her head. Her shoulders were broad, her arms toned to an...unbalanced degree with the rest of her upper body. Her legs were two long, her feet too wide, her stomach not flat enough, her scars a hideous reminder of why she was alone, scattered all over her like she had fallen into a cutlery set.
She wasn't meant to be a dancer. She wasn't meant to wear short sleeves or show off her legs. She was meant to be bundled in layers, only revealing as much as necessary to get her rocks off with some meaningless, heartless sex. She was meant to hunt creatures that no one else saw, have nightmares every night that leave her cold and screaming, be alone, never to have a family or a partner or a kid or even a single real date. That was who she was--Malory Grace, the goblin hunter and ogre killer, ready to solve you're weird problems for a price. Not Malory Grace, the pretty woman with an agile body and smooth moving limbs that would let people get close to her and laugh and smile.
After a decade of telling herself that the life Malory had was the life that she wanted, it was hard to believe that she still tried to be someone different.