Night time has always been difficult for Lucette, even as a child, even as a queen.
She sits in her bed, alone and quiet. Back stiff and straight against the headrest, blearily staring at the nightscape that pours endlessly beyond the windows.
Everything is lonely as she is, blanketed in the gentle darkness that swallows and takes and makes her fear that when daytime comes nothing will be there -
Then the night beside her shifts, twists an arm around her hips and asks, “What’s wrong?”
And Lucette will bend over, brush a light kiss over the crown of her prince-consort, of her night that will soon fade, murmur, “Nothing, Varg.”
It is a lie both acknowledge but neither voice, only trace the truth of it in their soft smiles, their memorising hands.
“Then go to sleep. Or i’ll be sleeping first without you.”
Varg is still light teasing and somber connotations, still too accepting and too resigned and Lucette kisses the corner of his eye where he does not let tears fall from.
Varg chuckles, airy and soft and Lucette is too stricken by the loneliness to laugh back.
“Smile, Lucette .”
Pinches her cheek as his eyes slip shut, fingers lax, and Lucette is afraid - of the night and the things it takes from her, even as daytime returns her another man she loves just as much, just as dearly.
Varg sleeps easier now, faster. Forehead pressed to her hip, head against her shoulder, fingers tightly entangled with hers; his touch ingraining themselves into her, so she might not forget, so she might not long too much if he never opened his eyes.
And Lucette clings on just as tightly, already forgetting, already longing.
Some nights it is not Varg. Some nights he is too tired and Fritz stays, and Lucette is filled with a different kind of fear.
Silver moonlight drenches the room in its glow. It is beautiful and elegant in a way all things rise to their peak just before they come to a steep end. A beauty of the eternal sort, that lives on in the heart of her that lives as it does, that watches it grow and evolve and end.
Then the moon that sits besides her caresses her cheek, and asks, “Do you want to talk about it?”
And Lucette will lean up, brush a light kiss over the cheek of her prince-consort, of her moonlight that will eventually fade, murmur, “I don’t know, Fritz.”
It is a truth both will acknowledge, only to trace the white lie with their meeting lips, their shaking hands.
“It’s okay. Just tell me when you do.”
Fritz is still diligent patience and earnest denotations, still too gentle and wholehearted devotion, and Lucette kisses the apples of his cheeks that he never lets drop.
Fritz winds an arm around her waist, presses an open palm to the small of her back, and Lucette is too stricken by the singular hours before the sun will rise to hold him back.
“It’s okay, Lucette.”
Pulls her closer, presses another kiss to her head, and Lucette is afraid - of the moon and its setting, of the day and the broken limbs he will bleed from, the wars that wage and the castles that burn a dusty black that will take, and take, and take.
Fritz keeps awake easier now, longer. Braiding love songs into her hair, imprinting poetry with every kiss, making up for time lost and courting etiquettes unperformed between another story told, another lullaby sung; the pieces of himself engraving in her, so she might not forget, so she might quieten the cold of loneliness with the warmth of his voice.
And Lucette buries the sounds deep, deep, within, if only to have something to keep company during those eternal summers without the night to blanch it out.
Curses are temporary, but fears are perpetual, haunting. They make a home in Lucette’s heart and makes fester and rot every soft thing she learns, she loves.
The Tenebrarum coaxes those fears, and nothing assuages them. Not when her fears stem from what is inevitable, what must come to pass, what is the truth.
It’s midnight and still Cinderella is stuck in time, clothed in riches and glass, that will soon be changed into ashes, be consumed by black, choking soot.
It's midnight and despite everything earned and everything learnt, Cinderella is still Cinderella; a lost little girl who loses everything over and over every time her clock strikes twelve, losing things she gained and had and wanted.
Even as Cinderella is stolen from her story by her Hunter and Wolf, she can never outrun time, never control it.
“Stop.” She’ll beg. “Stop, please, stop.”
The bell gongs twelve solid times, and with each repeat Lucette can only cry in fear of the people she must lose.
“I love you.”
Lucette is told that phrase twice, with the same devotion, with the same love, and only once does she break down.
It wells up in her, the sudden need to cry and sob as the loneliness no love can brush away overtakes her.
“You’ll leave me. You’ll go.” Lucette weeps, angry and mad over the clock she cannot control.
Fritz cradles her to his chest, stroking gentle over her tired, bowed head.
“We all do, one day.” Fritz says. He speaks with tender gravity no adult young as he is should possess, speaks with kind understanding and as much grief as does pour from Lucette’s eyes.
Fritz sucks in a shaking breath, and it rattles his ribcage that Lucette presses her face into, makes his chest dip concave, hollow and alive, for now.
“But until then, can I stay by your side?”
Lucette shakes her head, still too young, still too raw with barren pain and mourning for losses she has not yet experienced.
“I want you to stay beyond then. I want you by my side forever.”
Fritz smiles into her head.
Something wet softly lays puddles on her crown, and it isn’t until Fritz speaks husky that Lucette realises the same grief lives in Fritz, has lived in him for perhaps as long as it has in her.
That Lucette realises perhaps Fritz understood much, much more about what it entailed to marry a witch than she did to marry a human.
“So do I.”
Letting go is not easy, that is why things will leave long before they are let go.
There is a Hunter who cannot let go of his Wolf. There is a Wolf who leaves to have the Hunter whole.
There is Cinderella who cannot let go of her Hunter. There is a Hunter who leaves even as he wishes to stay.
“I have to go.” The Hunter says. The Wolf has been vanquished, Little Red Riding Hood rescued. There is nothing else to it.
“Don't. Please, don't.” Cinderella pleads. The glass slipper has been returned, the prince found. There is nothing else to it, either.
In the end, they are different stories with different endings - the bell will chime twelve times, and Cinderella will be alone again.
“No, not anymore.” The Hunter says, reading her thoughts etched into her knitted brows and downturned lips, the endless tears that stream and the silent sighs that trap and turn into sobs.
Every touch and kiss is tender and aching love; the kind that heals and loves and promises nothing but good things ahead.
“You have your slippers, the stars that you danced under with me. You have the melodies that sung as we waltzed, the words we exchanged and promises we swore. You had me, but you have so, so much more.”
“But I want you. Just you.”
Soft laughter, another kiss to her forehead.
“You'll always have me. But you'll always have more than just me, too.”
He sighs quietly, pats the small of her back. Leans into her, made of somber connotations and earnest denotations.
“You'll always have more than just me.”
Blinking open her eyes, she sees gold and silver and black.
“You were crying, are yo -.”
Cinderella throws her arms around her prince, just as the clock strikes twelve.
She will lose him, but the knowledge of all that will come to follow, all that he has given and will give, all that he has loved and will always love her makes the ending hurt a smidge less, a tenfold more.
Yet as she cries, the pain feels more forgiving, less quiet and insistent.
She'll cry for nights to come, for days, she knows.
The night sweeps across landscapes outside her window, fills the room was an inky black that still threatens.
Lucette will always ache for the ending of stories, but within Fritz's arms, within the night she has to learn to come to terms, Lucette must make her peace.
Lucette must let go.
But at least for tonight, just for tonight, Lucette holds onto Fritz with memorising hands and meeting lips and murmurs, “Stay.”
And Lucette wills back the tears as Fritz murmurs against her lips, “Of course”, to smile, instead.
It is their first day out of the castle with just them two, and Lucette forgot how bright the sun could shine.
The market is alive with sound and cheer. Bouquets of fresh flowers, carts of ripe fruit, stores lined with meat and pastries and knick knacks alike.
Music follows their every step, slow as it is with a broken ankle. Fritz is a good guide, even impaired as he is by the crowd and his fragile leg.
They buy kebabs and fruit water to share, strolling along, eating and pointing out the sights. Things have changed for the years they did not leave the palace and Lucette heart twists at the way back alleys remain the same even as the fronts change.
It isn't anything grand, just another ordinary market day. But still the simple gestures of the civilians that celebrate the ordinary is something joyous, makes happiness of an irreplaceable kind bloom in Lucette's chest.
Fritz even buys a gardenia daisy to gift, and Lucette blushes as he kisses her while pressing the flower into her curious hands.
When the crowd becomes too much, they steal away to a river under the bridge. The shade is plentiful and the grass dewy from rain, but they sit anyway and laugh at the way water clings to their clothes and not their lashes.
Lucette does not miss how Fritz is slow as he sits, how his legs remain carefully outstretched.
“Does it hurt?” Lucette asks, anxiously eyeing the healing ankle. It is already unsplintered, but the way Fritz totters at times leaves her thinking it should be otherwise.
“Not really. I just don’t want to put any unnecessary stress on it.” Fritz replies, bending slightly to rub the injured joint.
The fragility of a man and a witch is always so hard to remember, so hard to forget. It comes in the little things, the things that don’t matter until they do, the things Lucette tries so hard to forget in the night as Fritz lies beside her, weathered and scarred.
Fritz bleeds so, so, so much more easily; wounds scabbing and stitching and even then they leave trails of marks that are nothing but a painful reminder of how the next may be the last.
Lucette will watch Fritz where he lies, and envision white chrysanthemums and brown oak instead of silk sheets and sees herself giving him to Death in the bed where she gave herself to him.
Then, a hand is cupping her face, a thumb smoothing over the underside of her eye, pressing into her cheek.
It is rough and chapped and smells of fresh grass and faint sweat; and it shatters the morbid thoughts effortlessly - Fritz’s touch always does, as grounded and tender and loving as he is.
“Smile, Lucette.” Fritz says, teasing and familiar. And it unwittingly prompts Lucette to reach out to comb her fingers through the black that falls over one side of Fritz’s face.
The pain is still new and fresh as the daisy in her hand, and even learning how to heal is still somehow not enough. It is evident in the way Fritz speaks to himself and awaits an answer, it is evident in the way Lucette still finds herself reminded of the heavy tolls of a bell even on days as perfect as this one.
But they are trying, and they are together still, and Lucette hopes this will be enough, for the days that will come when they are not.
Mellow sunlight warms her knight’s frame. In the light, Lucette lets herself forget what it is the night will take, but remembers what it gave, instead.
In the light, Lucette lets herself see Fritz, hold him, love him, and lets herself be content for the present instead of dreading for the future.
“I am.” Lucette replies, and thinks of how pretty the cut flower will look on her vanity in a glass vase, capturing the sun on its maroon petals.
It is dying but still alive, and for that beauty Lucette will love it.
And for all that will come to pass, Lucette will love Fritz even still, even then, and even more now.
And for Fritz, Lucette finally smiles.