Rosa and Saro, life after fairytales, the burden of agency, and other ways to fall. Mind the shameless abuse of color symbolism.
Author's Note: Because if it's not shown on-screen, I'm going to twist it.
"Tell me a story," she says, tucking her head against his chest. Warm vibrations flow through her as he wraps myths around them, transforming her into the goddess who sang the sun into gold. His fingers tangle idly in her hair.
When he finishes, she looks him in the eye and says, "Now tell me a true one."
He smiles, and his lips trace the contours of her face as his fingers make a pilgrimage down her body. Her breaths come sharp and heavy, and she is almost lost again when he whispers, "I'm going to exterminate humanity for you."
It's too late to sing the sun away.
She didn't understand at first, hearing screams that were not her own and feeling someone else's blood spatter her face. Her voice turned to sand in her throat. Opening her eyes scraped and burned, and nothing met them but the searing yellow of the sun.
It would be a futile, temporary blindness, but even gouging would probably leave gems spilling from the sockets, and she couldn't bear to see it coming again-
A shading form intruded, all steel and white and crimson. She couldn't stop shaking.
"You're safe now," he said, and she flinched from the fingers that brushed her cheek. "I won't hurt you."
She waited to hear his conditions, but they never came. Her whimper died when she realized that her tears had touched his bare skin without suffering so much as a crack.
The world came down to breath, and she couldn't tell the present from the memory from the echo.
Her right ear is shorter than her left, shriveled and discolored at its blunted tip. When she brushes her hair, she must be careful not to brush the memory against her wrist. He does the job for her when he visits, cradling the nacreous comb in his callused hand, and she closes her eyes to reduce the world to feeling.
Today blindness makes it worse, so she anchors herself in the predawn sky.
He slips his hand past her hair to caress her neck. "I'm going to make the world safe for you," he murmurs into her good ear. "There'll be no one left to hurt you."
Outside her window, the clouds are scattering.
He didn't understand at first, bringing her mirrors and ribbons and whatever else he thought pretty girls were meant to have. One night she took his hand and ran it down the length of her worst scar, the tight pink one that comes within a whisper of her eye, and she felt his pulse quicken. In the morning he took away her mirrors and gave her books.
She has read them daily for years, memorizing the stories more quickly than he can supply new ones. The scent of old paper permeates the stone walls and weaves itself into the cloth. "You taste like ink," he teased once.
In the stories, heroes are above jokes. But their princesses are lovely and unsullied, and only villains lock them in towers. Sometimes she reads the histories instead, but she hates to see life reduced to words. At least fiction makes fewer pretenses.
Days slide by in eternities and heartbeats. She feels her nightmares radiating from her mind, tracing the grooves he made almost a decade ago when he sent his shadow into the world. For him, magic has always been a solid force to be grasped and bent through sheer force of will. But magic has been nothing but vapor for her, and she cannot fight what flows through her body with each breath.
Whether it is right for her dreams to escape doesn't matter. The choice, like every other, has been made for her.
She knew, but she is certain that he never meant for her to discover it. He has never understood that air penetrates deeper than steel.
On a night when she no longer hated to be touched, she woke trembling, her body cold and slick with sweat. The only sounds were her gasps, underscored by his light snoring. She felt nothing- there was nothing to feel- but if bones had dreams, and if those dreams could hum...
She knew, in the same way that she knew how to breathe while she slept.
Faces blossomed behind her eyes. To him, the world is divided into weeds and flowers, and there can be no confusing the two. To her, green is green.
For a moment she searched for her voice, then realized that she had no words to give it. She has never known how to be angry with him.
Resisting all thoughts of children, she let the blankets fall as she rose. Her feet missed the rug, and the stone sent a painful chill up her legs.
When she opened the window, autumn blew in and made her bare flesh prickle. Behind her, he stirred and mumbled that he was cold and that she should come back to bed.
He has never been good at causality.
Time slips. Sound rises from the stairwell to be muffled by the door.
She wonders, in a surreal flash, if he has already kept his promise and returned to lead her into a world where the ground is soft with blood. He would cut an ear from every human head and call it justice. Perhaps she is the one confusing righteousness with cruelty.
As footsteps echo upward, far too many for two legs to make, her body shakes with phantom pains. The fairytale she has read a thousand times will be enacted with tangled roles- when the knight is the monster who locked the princess away, the monster will be the knight who comes to slay her.
No, more tangled than that. They all play the part of the monster, all broken and angry and ready to kill. She includes herself; she isn't ready to die.
Then the door opens and everything bends again.
Her voice and her words, and she can never tell herself that she did not choose. Freedom is the same blue as despair.
She has read the same paragraph seven times. No matter how she tries to concentrate, her gaze drifts to the illustration as her thoughts drift to her visitors. In the world above the text, princesses are made of sinews, just as heroes are made of feathers and lightning. In the world beneath, everyone is made of blood.
There are many kinds of purity, she has learned. Her tears have begun to crumble in her own hands.
He knew, but he has always been the type to change things. His delusions bloom from determination. He claims to see the world for what it is, but he wears her image over his eyes, filtering everything through the cracked lens that he has made of her face.
She can't remember a time when she was flawless. For all his praise of purity, he found her broken, and he fell for a jumble of pieces held together by threads. He loves her together and in shambles, at peace and in tears. If he is mad, it is a madness that makes her feel unworthy.
There are men in the village again. She watches them by moonlight as they scurry around the base of the tower, tapping and digging and blasting shrill notes on a wooden flute. They don't understand, but someone has tried to teach them.
If she sent word to him, he would visit every sin against her upon them, and still he would come to her clean, with the blood scrubbed carefully from beneath his fingernails. But she would still see it. Red leaves a stain, and they are always red with each other.
Betrayal is only simple in fairytales, where black is hollow and all the colors are drowned in white.
When he left, the shadows had already gathered, but she can discern choice only in retrospect. She leaned against him as the sun rose and asked, "In our new world, will we travel together?"
"Of course," he replied, squeezing her shoulder. "I want to show you everything."
"You always lead. Promise you'll follow me, too."
He did, and stories have turned on smaller things.
The sun is gone, and the moon is empty. The stars are too dim to matter.
"Promise you'll follow me," she says aloud, and she wishes that she had something more than words. Stories have swallowed greater things.
To put out the candle or leave it burning, to make the bed or leave it in disarray- she suspects that there is an order to these things, but she is afraid to wander too long in the details. All that matters is nerve, born of dark dreams and a dizzying heartbeat.
The stone sill is cold against her feet. Shivering, she brushes her cheek and carries away a shard. Not whole, but near enough.
Already the wind is against her and around her, and for a shining moment it is through her, sharp and bright and slicing at the fall it cannot break. Her eyes are open.
He doesn't understand. Their red belongs on the outside.