Author's Note: so this is a little ficlet that goes between chapters forty-six and forty-seven of my Hellboy fanfic, "Once Upon a Time."
I wrote this story because it addresses some practical questions and concerns about the three ewah kids from ch. 46 coming to live with Dylan at her house, but couldn't afford to make this story just another chapter because I wrote it after I wrote chapter forty-seven, which had a specific lead-in that tied into the ending paragraph of chapter forty-six. So it's its own little thing instead.
Now, originally this was supposed to focus on the kids getting settled into Dylan's life for the first, like, day, but then as I wrote it turned into something that was more about Dylan and Nuada. So... yeah. Hope you enjoy.
Concerning the Chapter Title:Good Night, Moon is a children's book where I think a baby bear is saying good night to a bunch of stuff (like, "Good night, moon. Good night, stars. Good night, sky." Or something like that). But I chose it here because this short involves a bedtime story (although it's not that story) and some stuff about the moon and the stars and also because when I think of Good Night, Moon, I actually don't think of the children's book. I think of Dylan saying, "Good night, Nuada." Which is weird, maybe, but it's because of the way he's described in "Once" - moon-pale, moon-beam skin, etc. That sort of thing.
Good Night, Moon
A "Once Upon a Time" Short Story
In the private room of the Black Manticore, Wink set the canvas bag with the six fresh changes of clothes on the table and pointed at the copper tub full of steaming water. Tsu's'di looked absolutely relieved by the sight of the hot bath. A'du and 'Sa'ti looked more than a little apprehensive. They glanced at the massive troll that the prince had left to watch over them while he and the a'ge'lv talked about whatever grownups talked about when kids weren't around.
Wink pointed at 'Sa'ti and then pointed at the tub. 'Sa'ti glanced at her brothers. Tsu's'di nodded while the cave troll walked out of the room to give the three ewah some privacy. The little cougar-shifter's fur bristled and her ears flattened as she hesitantly approached the tub.
Her yowling cat-screech when A'du shoved her into the copper tub raised the fur on the back of her oldest brother's neck. Tsu's'di snarled at A'du, who raised his hands in a what? gesture and muttered, "She was taking too long."
"Do I even want to know what that was?" Nuada demanded in a mutter. The prince sat in an armchair near the fireplace in the other private room that they'd rented for the next however-long it took for three scruffy, dirty cougar children to get clean enough to suit his lady. He was currently massaging his temples with his fingers.
"Probably one of the boys - I imagine A'du, since he's still young enough to enjoy hearing girls scream - probably pushed 'Sa'ti in the water."
Nuada raised a brow. "You have none of my heightened senses. How are you so sure of this?"
Dylan shrugged out of Nuada's coat and laid it on the table. Then she flexed her bandaged arm, grimacing a little at the tightness where the stitches were. "I'm a psychiatrist. I specialize in child psychology. I know how little kids think. Fae children and human children aren't so different in that respect. Children are children, and they all act like it, at least sometimes. Didn't you ever push your sister in a body of water when you were young?"
A memory flashed through the prince's mind: chasing Nuala when they were small, barely out of toddlerhood; chasing her because he was soaked from falling out of the whippy, bending branches of the willow tree and landing in the pond in the Queen's Garden. Nuala had tripped and fallen herself, only into one of their mother's fountains instead of the pond. Cethlenn had been sympathetic to his twin (although not angry with her son, since Nuala had been dressed in play clothes anyway). Balor had made him apologize but hadn't been angry, either.
Nuala, of course, had been furious. She'd made sure he knew it by taking his stuffed warhorse (he'd only been in his fourth or fifth century, after all) and dumping it in the fountain as well. Of course his normally gentle twin had felt so bad about such a so-called "cruel act" that she had come to him almost immediately afterward, holding his sopping wet toy, weeping bitterly.
Of course Nuada had forgiven her. He always forgave his other half every trespass, every grievance. And in those far-away days of their childhood, Nuala had forgiven him in turn. They'd ended that day snuggled up together on the chaise in their father's study while Balor read them a story. Something about blue kittens... or maybe it was little ponies?
But that was then. Now...
A gentle touch on his shoulder brought him out of the world of memory and back to the present. He lifted his head. Sorrowful amber eyes met a familiar, silver-washed gaze. "Hey," Dylan murmured. "You okay?"
Because they were in public (somewhat) and because they needed to get in the habit of always playing along with the facade of being in love, Nuada captured the hand resting against his shoulder and brought it to his lips. Usually the tender gesture made Dylan turn all sorts of interesting shades of pink or red. But this time she only offered him a wistful smile.
"Would you like me to read more of Once Upon a Winter's Night to you while the kids are taking their baths?"
He blinked in surprise. "You have it here?"
She grinned. "I'm a bookworm. I never go anywhere without a book. Remember? The night we met and I had to dump out my purse, I had a bunch of books in it."
Nuada thought back to that night eleven months ago. Pushing through the memories of his own pain, the screaming fear in Dylan's eyes and the revulsion and hatred that had nearly choked him, he vaguely remembered making a snide comment about the myriad of items in her bag when she'd dumped it out to find her medical supplies. "You actually read those?"
"Of course. Why have them and not read them?"
"They fit in the palm of your hand. The text was miniscule. How could you read them?"
Dylan shrugged, still grinning. "Practice." Sitting in the armchair across from him, she grabbed her purse and pulled out a familiar book bound in snow-white fur. "Where were we, anyway? Oh, good - you marked the... page..." Blue eyes went wide as they scanned the page the two of them had left off on. "Um. Maybe this isn't the best place to read this book after all."
He frowned. "Why not?"
"Um... well... because of where we're at. I kind of forgot about this part." Blistering heat flared in her cheeks and she hunched her shoulders defensively. "I might not have offered to read it at all if I'd remembered this part. I read it one time but I usually skip it so I forgot."
Now the Elf prince's curiosity was piqued. "May I ask why?"
"No, you may not." When he cocked his head inquiringly, she mumbled, "It's embarrassing." He kept looking at her. "It's embarrassing. I'm not reading this part out loud to you, especially not in public. Here. You read it." She thrust the book at him and tapped their spot with a finger. "We're right there."
Nuada took the book and began to read. Pausing about three paragraphs in, he glanced up from the page to see Dylan studying her outstretched feet with fierce concentration. She was very careful not to look at him. Still so innocent, the prince thought with a smile as he went back to reading. He figured that either he would know when to stop and return the book, or Dylan (who was surreptitiously watching him; he could feel the soft weight of her gaze on him when the mortal thought he wasn't paying attention) would tell him when to stop.
Once at the place he imagined she would be most comfortable, Nuada handed the book back to her, tapping the place he'd stopped. He propped his chin on his fist. His smile was almost arrogant as he leaned forward a little. "Madoigna. You and I both understand how such things work. Why so shy?"
She blinked. "You're kidding, right?"
He actually had the gall to laugh. "You are..." The fae warrior had a brief recollection of Wink poking at him in the Troll Market about being, supposedly, "adorable." That was a good word for her. He opened his mouth to say so, then snapped it shut when she shot him a glare (somewhat ruined by the way the corner of her mouth kept trying to curve up) and found where Nuada had left off.
"What're they doing in there, d'ya think?" A'du asked his brother as Tsu's'di scrubbed the younger ewah's pelt of tawny fur with a brush to make sure it actually got clean. "Ow. They're being really quiet. Ow. Do you have to scrub so hard?"
"You're filthy," his brother informed him without remorse. "And the a'ge'lv was very clear - we don't get to wear our new clothes until we're all clean." Tsu's'di paused and looked down at the cougar boy. "You want new clothes, don't you?"
His little brother glanced at 'Sa'ti, who kept running her hands over the soft wool shirt that the prince and his lady had bought for her. Kept touching the clean, unpatched trousers and staring at the soft leather half-boots. A'du nodded. He wanted new clothes. Something that didn't have fleas or patches or stains. So he submitted to being scrubbed and washed and having water dumped on him while keeping an eye on the pile of clothing meant for him.
New clothes. Yeah, he really wanted those.
Dylan began to read again. Nuada settled back in his chair and closed his eyes, just letting Dylan's voice wash over him as her favorite story unfolded once more. He only broke through the lulling cadence once, as Dylan was reading, "With a toss of its tail, the Unicorn snorted and spun and trotted away, disappearing down the far side of the knoll. Tears welled in Camille's eyes, for now she truly knew what Fra Galanni had meant about being unsullied, and what Agnés meant about being pure-"
"That is ridiculous," he snapped. "What does virginity have to do with unicorns?"
His lady eyed him with a raised eyebrow. "Um, probably nothing. I wouldn't know, seeing as I've never met or even seen a real unicorn before." Her expression softened for a moment. "That would really be something, though. Anyway, but the thing about virgins and unicorns is just human superstition as far as I know. Human myth says that unicorns prefer - and in some cases will only abide - virgins, or even just 'unsullied' maidens." Nuada opened his mouth and she cried in exasperation, "I know, I know. It's ridiculous. I agree. However, that's just what Camille thinks; that's not what it is. It's the Bear - it scared the unicorn."
Nuada processed that. "Oh."
"Do you really think my favorite book would really have something like that in there? All things considered, I mean."
Liquid topaz eyes studied Dylan's face for a minute. Of course. All things considered, she'd said. Would Dylan really love this book so much if it so unrighteously condemned a state she herself had fallen into, especially through no fault of her own? "Of course not. Please, continue."
"Actually, I have a question. Nuala told me that being a virgin before marriage is a mostly human thing and isn't considered important by most fae. But you were willing to take two thousand lashes rather than tell your father what those men did to me. Why? You told me later that to have revealed that secret would've been dishonorable, but since virginity isn't exactly a precious commodity in Faerie, why would it even matter at all?"
He sat back, surprised. What had prompted her to ask?
The Elf prince took his time answering. "When we spoke of... of your scars, before. You told me that my people hold a very dim view of disfigurement. Of anything, actually, that reminds them of their own vulnerability. Their own pain. Many fae are arrogant and prefer to pretend that nothing in this world can touch or hurt them. I of course know better. So do you. But my people do not like being reminded of that, so speaking of such things is considered... not quite forbidden, but close enough that when such pain is spoken of, it is usually only among those closest to the speaker and always in private. That is why scars make the Fair Ones uneasy. That is also why it is considered dishonorable and cowardly to reveal such painful secrets, because they are shared in confidence with those closest to one's heart and should not be revealed to others without express permission."
"Then why didn't you just ask me for that permission instead of suffering the punishment in silence?"
Nuada turned from her to stare into the crackling fire. Because of many things. The hurt in him, that his father had believed him capable of such crimes. Capable of rape. Refusal to play along with Eamonn's game. And because, even then, even though he hadn't realized it, could never have realized it, he had loved her even then. Then there was the thought of Dylan being hurt for his sake when he'd already owed her so much... everything in him rebelled at that.
He gave her the last reason, but not the others. Then he added, "And because my pride would not allow it."
Dylan gaped at him for a long moment. Finally she sputtered, "If you ever get hurt that badly because of your stupid ego again I will... I will... I will never make you hot chocolate again!" His amused smile made her hiss, "Ever."
Then she snapped the book back open and found their place so she could keep reading. Her voice vibrated with baffled ire, which added to the atmosphere when she reached the part of the story where Camille and the white Bear were attacked by the ghosts of bloodthirsty goblin and troll warriors. By the time all three cougar-shifters were bathed, dressed, and knocking timidly at the door to the room Dylan and Nuada shared, however, the annoyance had cooled and her voice had become that soothing shushing lullaby sound once more. She marked their place and put the book away while Nuada commanded, "Enter."
Tsu's'di, A'du'la'di, and 'Sa'ti came forward with no little apprehension, while Wink's massive bulk behind them prevented the escape their nervousness demanded. Once the door was shut behind them, all three cougars knelt before the Crown Prince of Bethmoora and his lady.
Nuada studied them. There was remarkable improvement now that the children were clean.
Tsu's'di no longer looked like a scrawny youth. He looked like a guard in the royal blue tunic, gray trews and boots, especially with the sort of broad shoulders and height most ewah males could never claim and the way the lad carried himself. Now that his fur was clean and combed it hung in shaggy layers that Nuada knew would have at least half of the servant girls of Findias infatuated with him by the end of the first week back. Currently, the retractable claws of all cat-shifters were sheathed. The Elven warrior knew those claws could do vicious damage when unsheathed. Smoky turquoise eyes - the source of the lad's name, Tsu's'di Ka'ta, or Smoke-Eyes - met the prince's. There were a lot of ways Nuada could've described those eyes. Most of them meant trouble of the innocent variety, but the warrior prince had no doubt that if anyone threatened Dylan, the trouble wouldn't stay innocent very long.
A'du kept brushing one hand over his new, slate blue shirt, as if he couldn't quite bring himself to accept that it was there. The fur on his head stood up in wild tufts, but it was clean. Both feet twitched occassionally. Nuada recognized the gesture of a boy trying to surreptitiously break in new boots. A'du's bright gray eyes flicked to Dylan and an adoring look crossed the child's face before those eyes landed on the prince and settled. Nuada bit back a sigh. The Elven warrior recognized hero-worship when he saw it.
'Sa'ti's long mane of dark-spotted tawny fur had seemed much shorter before her brother - at least, the prince assumed it had been her eldest brother - had washed and combed the mats from it. Now it flowed down her back, half dusty blond hair, half tawny fur. Without the dirt and grime smearing the lightly furred cheeks, Nuada could see where the dark bruise near one eye was slowly fading. The tavern owner had brought a healer to see to the children before they'd been told to bathe. The little girl hugged a stuffed mountain lion (that had thankfully been freshly laundered) and smiled shyly at him. "Thank you, Your Highness, for the clothes and everything. Thank you, A'ge'lv."
"Yeah," A'du'la'di piped up. "Thanks for the clothes. And for letting us get our stuff. 'Sa'ti was worried we'd have to leave Neytiri behind." It seemed Neytiri was the stuffed mountain lion, who was missing one gray button eye and a few patches of fur around her middle.
"Yes," Tsu's'di added. "Thank you. Is... is there anything you would have us do?"
"For now," Nuada said as a knock sounded at the door, "we would have you join us for supper. Then we shall go home." Even as he spoke, three bieresal carrying trays came in and laid their burdens on the table to one side of the room before sweeping out again just as quickly and efficiently.
Both young ewah looked up at their brother, who grinned at them. He slipped one arm around each of their narrow shoulders. "Did you guys hear that? Home."
Nuada glanced at Dylan, whose grateful smile filled his chest with gentle warmth.
By the time the five of them (Wink had gone back to the lair) made it to the little cottage amidst the green, Dylan had somehow managed to amass vast amounts of information about both 'Sa'ti and A'du just by listening to them chatter at her like magpies. Nuada couldn't understand half of what they said. His lady clearly did not have that problem. So while she talked with the children, the Elven warrior spoke softly with Tsu's'di about what he could already do and what Nuada expected him to learn before they all went to Faerie.
Dylan held 'Sa'ti's hand on one side and A'du's hand on the other while they bounced around her and talked. 'Sa'ti had had Neytiri for more than twenty years. Was that a long time? Was Lady Dylan more than twenty? How old was Lady Dylan? Only twenty-nine? A'du was almost fifty years old, his birthday was on the spring equinox, and 'Sa'ti was thirty-three. Her birthday was two weeks after A'du's. When was Lady Dylan's birthday? Was the prince going to get her a present? Did the prince live with her all the time or did she live with him sometimes? They'd been living with their brother in their nest on the edge of the Troll Market since 'Sa'ti was really little. Were they going to live with Lady Dylan now? Did she know how to make a snowman? Did she know how to make runsas? The chicken kind or the beef kind? Both kinds? Wow.
They stopped at the whitewashed gate in the stone wall around Dylan's cottage. Becan must have sensed their return because warm amber light filtered through the curtained windows and smoke rose from both chimneys. And apparently while they'd been gone, the brownie had also decorated for the winter holidays. White and blue fairy lights - which, when handled properly, looked an awful lot like standard electric Christmas lights - glittered in the elder trees that flanked Dylan's front gate. Dylan's pomegranate and hawthorne trees also sparkled with fairy lights, as did her rosemary and magically preserved rosebushes. The icicles that clung to the edges of her roof were real icicles, some glistening with frost, but they all glimmered with tiny drops of magical light. The flagstone walkway had been swept clean of snow and lined with more lights in silvery-white and blue.
"Is this it?" A'du asked. "Do we get to live here?"
"It looks really nice," 'Sa'ti said. "The lights are so pretty!"
"This is it," Dylan replied. "This is my cottage. 'Sa'ti, A'du, and Tsu's'di - please accept my invitation to come into my home."
The gate swung open and they all moved down the luminous stone pathway. The air in the front garden was crisp with the scents of snow and evergreen. 'Sa'ti and A'du gaped at the brilliant lights.
Dylan allowed herself a moment to enjoy the smells that reminded her so much of winter holidays when she was a child, and the beautiful lights that always filled her with happiness and warmth. Then she cried, "Becan! It's not even December yet! It's too early for Christmas decorations. Gah." But she was smiling when the front door swung open and the brownie leaned against the doorframe. "We haven't even had Thanksgiving yet, dear heart. Wasn't that always my rule before?"
"Rules are sometimes made for being broken, milady," the brownie replied with an impish smile and a wink at the two young ewah. "Especially with young ones in the house. There is apple pie in the oven and I just set a tray of cookies out to cool."
That gave his mistress pause. "What kind of cookies?"
"Chocolate chunk, milady."
Blue eyes went wide. "In that case, race you guys to the kitchen." By the time she'd taken a handful of steps, A'du and 'Sa'ti were already inside, trailed by a scrambling Becan. "Okay. Never mind. I lose. No more than two cookies each, you guys! I want you able to settle down and sleep tonight!" Dylan called after them. When Nuada drew abreast of her she slipped her good arm through his. "I forget sometimes how old I am. Bleh."
Nuada laughed as they stepped out of the cold into the delicious warmth of the cottage's entryway. Tsu's'di followed after and closed and bolted the door. Nuada said, "Madoigna, old is not the word I would use to describe you. A mortal woman keeping up with two cougar cubs? No. Perhaps if you were Elven."
"If I were Elven," Dylan said as the ewah youth went into the kitchen and she and Nuada went into the living room, "most of our problems would be solved."
The prince helped his lady out of her new coat and tossed it onto the back of the chair. Then, careful of her bandaged forearm, he tugged off her gloves. They also ended up on the chair. Meeting her eyes, Nuada raised her hand to his lips and brushed a soft kiss across Dylan's knuckles. He was never certain if having to be so tender towards his lady was bane or blessing, but he enjoyed kissing her hand. It always turned her knees to jelly.
"If you were Elven, you would not be you, and my life would be poorer for the loss."
Honey amber eyes held her gaze for a long moment. Something flickered behind those liquid topaz eyes, something that gave Dylan an odd and startling moment of clarity. Nuada actually meant it. He sincerely meant that she had enriched his life enough that her humanity made it worth it. He would prefer her human to Elven. And coming from someone who hated the human race with a fire that rivaled the heat of a thousand suns, that was huge. Huge enough that she couldn't even speak for a few minutes.
Finally she smiled at him. "You're amazing, you know that?"
"As are you," he murmured, skimming his knuckles the length of the scar slashing down her cheek. She grinned at him.
"Well, I know I am. But thank you, Your Highness for the compliment."
Eight cookies later (divided amongst Dylan, Tsu's'di, A'du, and 'Sa'ti), Dylan sat down on the den chair while 'Sa'ti snuggled to get more comfortable, half-buried under the blankets on the sofa, hugging Neytiri-the-Mountain-Lion to her thin chest with one arm while slurping hot chocolate mixed with melting whipped cream and chocolate sauce with a large spoon. The only reason Dylan allowed it was because the little girl was sitting upright and Becan kept a saucer afloat beneath the mug. The brownie did the same thing for A'du'la'di. The fur around A'du's mouth was smeared with whipped cream. He started to wipe his mouth on his sleeve, but at Dylan's look and elegantly arched brow, he lowered his arm and ducked his head while Becan floated him a napkin to wipe his mouth with.
"So, how do we like the living arrangements?" Dylan asked the three ewah. "They'll change once we get to Findias - you'll actually have your own room then, and actual beds, but when the cottage was built it was supposed to be just for me so there's only one bedroom. We go back to Faerie in a few weeks; sometime around the Winter Solstice, His Highness said. Until then, though, will this work? Or should I see about magical renovations?"
"Oh, no, A'ge'lv, don't go to any trouble," Tsu's'di cried from where he sat near the hearth. "These will do quite well. We thank you."
"Yeah, I like it," A'du said, patting his pillow at the top of the unfolded futon. "No rats. You don't even have any bugs. No puddles or anything. It's warm and it's way soft. It smells nice, too." Which was because Dylan had put applewood logs on the fire instead of the standard rosewood she normally used. The crisp scent of applewood mingled with the sweetness of baking pie and cinnamon-scented beeswax candles.
"And there's new clothes and chocolate chunk cookies!" 'Sa'ti cried. "And hot chocolate!" She slurped up another trembling spoonful of hot cocoa mixed with Never and melting whipped cream. "Hot chocolate is the best thing ever. I wanna drink it all the time."
"Growing faeries need milk and juice, too," Dylan reminded her new handmaiden. "So unfortunately no hot chocolate all the time. But I totally agree that it's one of the best things ever. So, just so we're clear on what's going to happen tomorrow, I have to go to church in the morning. I'll be back by noon. The prince will want this room to train in once you're up, all right? Becan will make sure you guys get breakfast and Tsu's'di, it's your job to get everyone brushed and combed and dressed and all that, okay?" The youth nodded. "When I get back, we'll figure out what you know how to do and come up with a chore roster for while we're at the cottage, okay? Good," she said when all three ewah nodded in agreement. "Tsu's'di, please make sure these two finish their hot chocolate before they fall asleep. Goodnight, you guys. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Oh, wait!" 'Sa'ti cried before she realized she'd made a demand of the lady she now was supposed to call "mistress." The little ewah shifted to bow her head and bare the side of her throat in submission when Dylan stopped and turned back. "M'sorry, a'ge'lv."
"It's all right. What do you need?"
After a long moment of fidgeting silence, 'Sa'ti murmured, "Could you... maybe... if it's okay... read us a story? A'du says our parents used to tell us stories, but we've heard all of Tsu's'di's and we'd like to hear a human story if it's okay with you."
"Aww," A'du muttered, swiping at his cheek with a fist. He scowled into his hot chocolate. "Stories are for babies."
Dylan studied both children for a long time. Both of them fidgeted under her scrutiny. A'du'la'di wanted a story, she could see that in the hope he was trying to smother in his eyes. He'd had to grow up fast. Now he was afraid to seem weak to her, in case she decided he was too weak to keep on. Well, Dylan thought, the poor thing would learn soon enough that she wasn't like that.
What finally drew her attention away from the children was a familiar, pale figure gliding into the room. Nuada sank gracefully into the chair beside the door and laid his booted foot on his opposite knee. "Since you are still in here, my fair lady, I assumed tonight's story would include our new... additions."
"The a'ge'lv reads stories to you, too, Your Highness?" A'du asked. Nuada inclined his head. The prince could see the boy was trying to reconcile this information with what he knew/believed about his new hero. Finally, the cougar cub said, "Oh."
Becan, a master of multitasking, floated over a slim green volume from one of the bookshelves lining the wall. Dylan murmured "good choice" along with words of adoration as she flipped the book open and glanced at the prince. "I'm not one hundred percent sure you'll like this one, Your Highness. It's for children. Although I like it, too. But I don't think Once Upon a Winter's Night is appropriate this time."
Nuada shrugged, a casual ripple of muscle that made warmth steal into Dylan's cheeks. His next words didn't help, either. "For my lady's pleasure, then."
Swallowing hard and trying not to blush, Dylan began to read. "A friend is someone who likes you. It can be a boy... it can be a girl... or a cat... or a dog... or even a white mouse." Every time there was a new idea it came with a picture. Because her chair was situated between 'Sa'ti and A'du, she could show them the pictures. "A tree can be a different kind of friend. It doesn't talk to you, but you know it likes you, because it gives you apples... or pears... or cherries... or sometimes, a place to swing." Starlit blue eyes met eyes of liquid amber as she added with a smile, "A brook can be a friend in a special way. It talks to you with splashy gurgles. It cools your toes and lets you sit quietly beside it when you don't feel like speaking."
The Elven warrior blinked. It doesn't talk to you, but you know it likes you, because it gives you apples... A brook can be a friend in a special way... lets you sit quietly beside it when you don't feel like speaking. A phrase that described him in the first moons of their friendship, and a phrase that described her, too, even now. She had chosen this book for a reason. But what reason?
Her mouth curved into a gentle smile as she kept reading. "The wind can be a friend too. It sings soft songs to you at night when you are sleepy and feeling lonely." Memories of Gaelic lullabies whispered through Dylan's mind and his. "Sometimes it calls to you to play. It pushes you from behind as you walk and makes the leaves dance for you." Pushing a pretty girl on a swing. Snowballs flying. Balancing on the narrow metal beam at the playground. Almost-kisses, which they still had not discussed (and if he had anything to say about it, never would). "It is always with you wherever you go, and that's how you know it likes you."
Becan took 'Sa'ti's empty cup as the little girl snuggled down amidst the warm blankets and cuddled her stuffed toy. A'du drained his own mug and the brownie took it, too, and carried both cups to the kitchen. Tsu's'di continued to nurse his drink and Nuada watched Dylan with carefully blank eyes.
Dylan took a deep breath. Could she keep the emotion out of her voice when she read this next part? Could she keep from trying to catch Nuada's lovely honey gold eyes? She decided it didn't matter. Not tonight. "Sometimes you don't know who are your friends. Sometimes they are there all the time, but you walk right past them and don't notice that they like you in that special way."
In that special way...
Nuada's eyes would have widened if he hadn't had thousands of years' experience in schooling his expression. Was Dylan telling him... could she possibly be telling him... and even if she was, could he let it matter?
"And then you think you don't have any friends. Then you must stop hurrying and rushing so fast, and move very slowly, and look around carefully, to see someone who smiles at you in a special way..." Dylan read as she offered Nuada what the prince thought might have been a special sort of smile. The smile she only gave to him. Then she looked down at the pages again. "Or a dog that wags its tail extra hard whenever you are near... or a tree that lets you climb it easily... or a brook that lets you be quiet when you want to be quiet. Sometimes you have to find your friend. Some people have lots and lots of friends and some people have quite a few friends."
Now she looked into 'Sa'ti's sleepy eyes and A'du's tired ones, into Tsu's'di's eyes like turquoise swirled by smoke. Finally she met Nuada's eyes, which held something in their golden depths that felt like a mix between pain and hope, joy and resignation. Something inside her recognized that feeling, though she couldn't have said why. Recognized it, and responded to it. There was an odd softness in her voice, even for her, when she finished the story. "But everyone, everyone in the whole world has at least one friend. Where did you find yours? The end."
"Another one, please, a'ge'lv," A'du mumbled sleepily. He glanced at his little sister, who could barely keep her eyes open. Both children looked ready to conk out any minute. If she read them another story, they'd be out like lights before she got to the middle.
But instead of getting up to get another book, Dylan settled back in her chair and glanced at the Elf prince again. There was a story she could tell. She knew it like she knew all the scars on her heart. She could map it out in her head the same way she could map out the royal scar across Nuada's face and the whorls at his temples. And she knew how to tell it without hurting either of them, or scaring the children.
"All right. Just one more, though. Once upon a time, in the underground labyrinthine kingdom beneath New York City, there was a maiden lost in the stone maze. She was pretty, and wore a lovely red dress that made her look like a princess." Dylan met the Elf prince's eyes as she spoke. Could see, reflected in his eyes, the memory of her in that ripped, cut up, bloodstained dress of crimson silk. "But she had many enemies, including a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. When she stumbled into the underground kingdom, that pack of wolves caught her scent and gave chase. Now in this kingdom, there was also a brave prince. He heard the maiden cry out in the dark, heard the wolves howling after her, and this prince went out into the darkness to defend her from the monsters that hunted her."
Dylan paused, and saw that both 'Sa'ti and A'du'la'di were sound asleep, so she stopped talking. Let the words of her story, of her and Nuada's story, fade into the quiet of the crackling fire and the wind singing in the night.
Tsu's'di rose and bowed. Dylan smiled at him. She smoothed her hand over the tufted, wild mop of A'du's hair, trying in vain to make it lay somewhat flat. Bending down, she brushed a kiss across A'du's forehead, then 'Sa'ti's. Both children half-smiled and began to purr softly in their sleep.
Then she went to Nuada's side where he stood by the door. Both of them inclined their heads towards the youth. The mortal said, "Good night, Tsu's'di."
"Good night, Your Highness. Good night, A'ge'lv."
The adults ended up with their own mugs of hot chocolate in the living room, Nuada seated in the leather armchair by the fire and Dylan perched on the velvet-covered footstool. Winter wind sang in the dark, the front room hearth blazed with warmth, and a companionable silence settled over them both like a spell. For a long while they simply sipped hot chocolate and watched the fire.
"Do you intend to tell them stories every night?" Nuada asked into the gentle silence.
Dylan lifted her shoulder in that familiar elegant half-shrug. "Unless they don't want me to." She drained the last of the warm chocolate drink from her mug and set it on the hearth stones near her feet. "Should I not?"
"As long as you are not obvious about it, I don't see that it matters," the prince replied while staring into the dancing flames. "It is... unusual and most would say 'not done,' but you are human and common-born. Many nobles will forgive you your foibles." Then he glanced at her. "But this kissing business. Why do you do it?"
Blue eyes blinked in surprise. "Didn't your parents kiss you good night when you were little? Or, I don't know, a nurse or nanny or something? Nuala, even?" Nuada shook his head. Her gaze grew sad. "No one kissed you good night when you were small?"
There was a brief whisper of memory then, stirred by Dylan's words-
- The crisp scent of mint mingling with apples
Crooning murmur of a lullaby
Gentle touch against his cheek
Night-light forcing back the scary dark
Cethlenn's lips brushing his forehead
Green eyes soft with mother love
Mathair... Mathair... -
Nuada frowned and tried not to latch onto the memory from so long ago. It would serve no purpose to hold onto such a thing. "When I was very small, I think my mother kissed me good night once or twice. But not as a regular thing. I think only for special occassions. My birthday and such. I scarcely remember such trivialities. Besides, most nobles are not usually very demonstrative with their offspring, even in private."
"That's ridiculous," Dylan protested. "Children need affection to be healthy. The fae need physical affection to be healthy - they're very touch-oriented; you and I both know that. And everyone needs someone to love them. Without love... well, what else is there? I mean, even my parents kissed me good night when I was little. John and I would each give each other a good night kiss before bed, too, even after we stopped sharing a room."
The prince shrugged and drained the last of his hot chocolate. "Many fae manage without such. Perhaps it is a human thing, this constant need for physical affection. It would explain why you... what was the word you used? Ah, snuggle. It would explain why you 'snuggle' me all the time."
"I snuggle you because you don't get enough affection, not because I don't."
He blinked at her. "Because I do not... where did you get such an idea?" She just looked at him for a very long moment. Dark lips twisted into a scowl. "I am not a child in need of cuddling, Dylan, or a weepy maiden who needs petting and cossetting. I am an adult. I am an Elven warrior and a prince. I do not need any such sugary sentiment from anyone. Not my parents, not my sister, and not from you."
"Every time anyone so much as hints that you might have some kind of perceived weakness, you get angry," Dylan said, unperturbed. "Why is that?"
The feral-eyed Elven warrior snarled, "Because I am not weak."
"Having a weakness doesn't mean you're weak," she said. "It means you have a heart. A soul. Everyone has weaknesses, Nuada. Even you."
Nuada abruptly rose to his feet and moved to stand before the hearth. He hadn't thought that this would morph so quickly into a conversation he didn't want to have. It had been some months since he and Dylan had talked about something that irritated him so. At least something that the human had brought up instead of an issue with his father or some other political problem. Glaring into the fire, Nuada remained silent.
"I think we need to have this conversation now," Dylan added gently. "Especially with the children here. There's no guarantee we'll get around to this again if we don't hash it out now, because kids make everything crazy. So even though you're giving me the silent treatment, I'm gonna talk. You don't have to say anything. I'd prefer if you did, but..."
Another elegant half-shrug. A tree can be a different kind of friend. It doesn't talk to you, but you know it likes you, because it gives you apples...
"This is just something for you to think about. Everyone has weaknesses, because everyone has someone they love. You have weaknesses because you have people that you love: your father, your sister, your mother. Wink. You have people you're willing to sacrifice for, at least partially. As a prince you can't do too much sacrificing for the individual, but you get my point. Would you eschew all the ones you love from your life so that you can escape the weakness they bring you? Because let me tell you something else - those same weaknesses are also your greatest strengths. People who have something to fight for, who have something they fight to defend, they are stronger than those who claim to shun the weakness of loving. I would never have made it to where I am if it wasn't for the people I love."
Golden eyes turned to study Dylan where she perched on the footstool. She kept her chin propped on the arms folded atop her knees. The firelight danced across her face, creating intriguing shadows and gilding her fragile cheekbone. Her eyes were filled with understanding. That shouldn't have been possible... but when did this mortal ever do what Nuada expected her to? Her very existence shouldn't have been possible, much less the compassion in her gaze. But the way his heart reached toward her whenever he looked into that gaze was a weakness he could ill afford. She already saw into him too deeply. So he turned back to the fire.
"My loved ones," Nuada said softly, "are weaknesses I must live with. I can do nothing about them. Everything else? I shun weakness because it only serves to get you killed on the battlefield, or on the political game board. And if I must lose those I love, well then, what of it? I lost my mother. I will one day lose my father. I will probably one day lose Wink as well. The day my sister's heart ceases to beat, so will mine. But I can live without those I love if I must." After all, he'd been doing so since his exile. Only Wink, his oldest and dearest friend, had accompanied him then.
"If you must," she murmured. "I don't doubt that. But why should you if you don't have to? How strong do you really have to be, Nuada?" She watched as he braced his forearm against the mantel and didn't answer her. The pose struck a chord in her - he'd stood just that way during the argument right before he left. Dylan ignored the sudden tingle of nerves. Instead, she asked, "Why is it so hard for you to rely on someone else, even just a little bit?"
"I am strong enough to handle what obstacles and trials come my way. I need no one else's aid."
"But wouldn't it be nice just to have it?"
She reached out. Hooked her index finger around the little finger of Nuada's left hand, the one that until now had hung limply at his side. He glanced down at their semi-joined hands and arched an eyebrow at her. Dylan cocked her head to peer at him through the curtain of her hair.
Nuada was fairly sure he could feel her pulse through the slender finger wrapped around his own. Her skin was soft and so warm against his. And he remembered the words from the children's book she'd read earlier that night. A brook can be a friend in a special way. It talks to you with splashy gurgles... and lets you sit quietly beside it when you don't feel like speaking.
"Wouldn't it be nice," Dylan said coaxingly, "to be able to trust someone with everything that weighs you down? Everything that makes your heart heavy? Wouldn't it be nice to have someone you could go to and ask for help? Wouldn't that ease the burdens you bear? And don't tell me you don't carry any burdens because I know you and I know that's not true at all. I can see how tired you are most of the time, both emotionally and physically. Don't you wish, just sometimes in your heart of hearts, that there was someone you could share the burden with?"
"And who would be willing to share such burdens, Dylan?" Nuada snapped, pulling out of her loose hold. "Who would be foolish enough to help shoulder the burdens borne by a fae royal? I carry responsibility for my people, for my kingdom, for my family! Bound by my father's treaties, I bear the responsibility for the other fae kingdoms as well - the other twelve Elven kingdoms and all the rest! I must prepare for war with the humans while my father binds me more and more tightly to one! My people are torn between happiness for me - happiness brought about by a lie - and disgust with me for betraying them to the humans that have oppressed them for countless centuries. My family believe I have no honor. Many of my people believe the same. Nearly every good thing I attempt, I find myself blocked at every turn by those who should be helping me! That is only the beginning of this burden you speak of. Who then, O wise human healer, would you have me sin against by asking them to share in such?"
It took her a long moment to stand up because her leg was stiff, but she finally managed it. Then the mortal woman faced the copper-eyed Elf prince. She reached up with hands that did not tremble and framed his lean face. Dylan felt him tense. Was grateful that he didn't pull away, though he looked very much like he wanted to. He only locked eyes with her. When she was certain she had his undivided attention, she spoke.
"Me," she said softly. "And God. If you have the strength to pour out your heart without expecting immediate divine intervention, Heavenly Father will listen to you. I have spoken to Elves about this kind of thing before. Elves believe in the High King of the World. They believe He is real. You believe in Him, too, just as you believe in magic and the other mysteries of this world; you've told me so before. You've also told me that you've given up on any gods interfering in your life - I haven't forgotten. Look, the Elves call the God of Israel the Star Kindler, and the Lamplighter of the Moon, because the stars and moon remind you of His power. His guidance. They remind you to see the divine in the beauty of the world around you. They remind you of His presence.
"Nuada," Dylan added gently, "the stars are still there. Even though you can't always see it, the moon is still there, too. And so is He. He will listen. He understands. He loves you. He may not answer you right away, and sometimes you may not hear him, but He will hear you... and He will comfort your heart.
"And even if you don't believe that, believe this - I will listen. I will try to understand. I will try to be whatever you need because you do need it, Nuada. You need someone who loves you unconditionally and completely, someone who will do everything in their power to do what's best for you. So talk to God. And talk to me."
"You love me," he murmured, his voice soft with wonder. She'd never said it so softly, so earnestly before. "How do you love me?" How could she love him? He'd never thought about that before, but it was a valid question. How could she love him when his own kin did not? How could this mortal love him when he had done so much she condemned? Killed humans - she had to know he'd killed her kind. He'd made that obvious in the first weeks of their meeting. Did her forgiveness truly stretch so far? How do you forgive me? Nuada thought, but did not (could not) say. How do you love me?
"Unconditionally," she said. Her hands slid from his face to rest over his suddenly thundering heart. "Completely. Tá tú mo chara daor." You are my dearest friend. "I would do almost anything for you. Talk to me, Nuada. Trust me. You've already trusted me with so much but not with yourself. Never with yourself."
He tried to look away. She caught his eyes against with her own; a silver-swept, sweetly-baited trap of impossible blue that managed to hold him fast, no matter how hard he struggled.
"When you need comfort, it's okay to ask me. When you need something from me - or when you just want something from me - it's okay to ask. We're friends. I'm not going to get mad if you want to talk to me about something. I'm not going to think of you as weak. You're the strongest man I know. I wish I could be as strong as you. If there is anything you stand in need of I want you to tell me so I can help. I want to help you. Let me help you."
Nuada opened his mouth. When he realized the words that wanted to spill out were a simmering confession that would damn them both in ways he still couldn't entirely fathom, he shut it again and glared at the slowly-dying fire. Dylan offered him a sad smile.
"Just think about it. Okay? If you don't want to talk to me... remember the stars are bright tonight, and the moon is beautiful. Heavenly Father is always listening." Then, bracing herself on his shoulders, she stood up on tiptoe and leaned in to brush her lips across the scar carved deep across his cheekbone in a chaste kiss. Stunned, the golden-eyed Elf prince watched her settle back onto the floor. Dylan suddenly looked very unsure of herself, but her voice was still quiet and gentle when she whispered, "Good night, Nuada."
She was already down the hall and disappearing into the other room when he finally found his voice enough to murmur, "Good night... my love." Then he sank into the armchair and let his eyes find the window, and the glittering diamond stars against the velvet night. The moon was a sliver of pearl against the blackness. Staring at that beauty, he replayed over and over again in his mind the feel of those exquisitely soft lips brushing against his skin.
And he thought, or perhaps he prayed, Just maybe, it would not be such a hard thing if she gave me such a kiss every night. She is like a star; even when I cannot see her, I know she is there, waiting to bring me light and comfort. If... if the Star Kindler had a hand in that... then I thank Him. I thank You for... for her. Good night, Lamplighter of the Moon.
Strangely, as Nuada leaned back in the comfortable chair and closed his eyes, feet stretched out in front of him, he thought he felt an oddly comforting warmth slowly steal over him, a warmth that seemed to whisper, Good night, child.
And then he was sound asleep.
Author's Note: so, yeah - that's LA Knight's version of "Good Night, Moon." This totally happened... what's the word... organically. It was supposed to be one thing (and it still is the thing it was supposed to be) but it also turned into a bunch of other things, and the end does kind of come off very bedtime-story/picture-book-ish. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed it. Hopefully you'll enjoy chapter 47 of "Once Upon a Time" just as much.
Copyright Information: the two books quoted in this story are Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan and A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You by Hallmark. I do not quote OUaWN in anything close to its entirety, but A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You is a children's picture book from 1959, and it's short enough - and the different lines all fit well enough with one of the purposes of this scene - that I quote the book in its entirety. However, I doubt this counts as copyright infringement because a) I'm not making any money off of this, b) Fair Use Laws allow that up to 33% of the work be quoted materials (and what both book excerpts combined equal is nothing close to that much) and c) I'm fairly sure this book is no longer in print. The title of this ficlet is also a children's book, Good Night, Moon. By US law, titles cannot be copyrighted as regards to songs, books, movies, television shows, and CDs. Toy lines, I'm not sure about.