Valentine

In the end there is confusion and shouting, and though he folds himself around her and though she clings tight, they are torn apart. He sees her face in the light of day for the first and last time, stained with tears and shocked by the betrayal of her people and his. Everyone is yelling, filling the air with accusations, but he cannot look away from her, afraid to even blink.

“I will come,” he calls to her, through the noise.

Her lips tremble, then turn up into a smile. “I’ll die waiting,” she tells him, and is swept away.

+++

“Father,” she says. For just a moment she’s his little girl again, more precious than anything in his kingdom, trembling in fear of the dark.

He blinks. His hands are around her throat.

“Father,” she says again, softer now; she isn’t even trying to struggle. Deeply sinful child that she is, he feels a last tired spark of pride that she would accept his final command so willingly. The flutter of her breath is soft as a butterfly’s wing against his fingers. Her eyes are starting to dim.

“Sleep,” he says, crooning like the lullabies of long ago.

She does.

+++

Valentine watches her dance under hooded lids. His thin lips are set into a scowl and he strokes his fingers up and down the gold chain hanging at his neck. Now and then, he bares his teeth on a name he never once voices.

Valentine watches her dance, jealous as a lover, never blinking. Something flickers in his narrow eyes and quickly dies. The world could burst into flames and he would never notice, too preoccupied with the girl in silks and red velvet and the ghost that dances together with her.

Valentine watches her dance. And Ingway watches him.

+++

Fire and worse still rains down from the sky, but most of the screams have fallen silent when he crawls out from the under the Cauldron’s shadow. On his belly goes until he finds his sister, pale and still and sheltered. She is still wearing red silk. He touches her to make certain she’s real; his fingers brush her lips.

They’re soft. Her breath is warm against his fingertips. For a moment his heart pounds so loudly in his ears he can hear nothing else.

Like a man burned, he scrambles to his feet; he runs and never looks back.

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