Author's Note/Disclaimer: Here's a story that I've been keeping in the back of my mind for a long time. I haven't written much "Into the Woods" fan fiction particularly in the last couple of years, but this one came to me surprisingly easily. Thank you to Sondheim once again for composing such a beautiful musical and thank you to my father and grandmother who have taught me the following lesson firsthand.
I do not own "Into the Woods." Enjoy!
Into the Woods
For a Good Cow
Autumn leaves fell like rain outside the baker's cottage. The fall wind was already starting to take its toll on the six people who lived at the small bakery. They all shivered indoors trying to stay warm, save for the young man Jack who was sitting at the base of the hill outside with sorrow in his eyes. The earth that Jack stood on was soft and freshly disturbed, and everyone knew why.
The lady of the house stood by the window, holding her young daughter in her arms despite the toddler's insistent squirming. "I think I should talk to him, Chip," she said.
The Baker looked over to her. He had bread to prepare for supper and the next day's business, and knew that he had to ignore the sadness all around to be efficient. "Very well, Cinder. He'll catch cold out there if he doesn't come in anyway."
"Can I come, Mother?" asked Thomas, the Baker's oldest child.
"Jack!" said the toddler, pointing out the cottage window.
Cinderella smiled at her adopted son and biological daughter. The two children were both so sweet about their older brother (though he wasn't really related to either of them) Jack. She wondered if they really understood why he was so sad in the first place.
"Of course you can come along," Cinderella said, leading Thomas out the door and still carried her daughter in her arms.
Before she left the cottage, Cinderella caught a flash of blood red fabric following her. She knew that Red, the other young adult in the household, was following along silently. That was a comfort, for if there was any one person that Jack adored, it was Red.
Jack was still sitting on the soft ground in the freezing wind, but he didn't shiver. He didn't notice how cold it was.
"Jack?" Cinderella asked quietly, knowing that Jack needed her words to be gentle.
Jack's eyes darted to meet Cinderella's, but otherwise he didn't acknowledge she or the others' presence.
"Jack," Cinderella started again, setting her daughter down, "you knew that it was only a matter of time for Milky White. The witch gave her a second life, after all." She paused and added, "The poor cow hadn't given us milk for months."
"You don't have to tell me what I already know," Jack croaked hoarsely. He had been the one to comfort and tend to the old cow while she was sick the last few months.
"Jack," the little girl said, and stumbled over to comfort sad Jack.
But Jack was in no mood for his little sister's antics. "Leave me alone, Joanna," he near growled.
Little Joanna frowned and went back to her mother, understanding somehow.
"Listen up, Jack," started Red, now angry, "we all know you love animals, but you've lost a lot more important things." She paused. "We all lost people to the giant."
"You don't understand," Jack said, shaking his head.
"What don't we understand?" Cinderella asked.
Jack looked up at the group, then back down to the ground again. He wanted to say something, but the words just weren't coming out. He felt uncomfortably vulnerable with Red and the two small children watching him cry.
Cinderella knelt at Jack's side and put a hand behind his back. "We just want you to come inside. If you can't tell us here you can tell us another time, when you're warmer."
Jack shook his head. "No, no. I should tell you now, while I can."
"Drat," Red muttered, shivering in the wind.
Jack shot her a glare. "Take Tom and Joanna back inside then. I don't need you here," he snapped.
Red might have argued, but somehow she knew that following Jack's advice was best, and took Thomas and Joanna back with her. She watched Jack and Cinderella discuss whatever it was they were talking about from the corner of a window.
Jack allowed the words to come to him once he heard the slam of the cabin door.
"I-I always loved Milky White, but after the Giantess' defeat, she meant more to me," he said.
"How so?" Cinderella asked.
"Well, you could say she was…no, it truly is ridiculous."
"No–no, it's not," the former princess pressed. "Tell me."
Jack didn't say anything for a few moments longer, but finally spoke again. "You could say that she was all that was left of my old life. She was the only thing left from home…from Mother."
Cinderella couldn't speak. She could completely understand Jack's sorrow, but she didn't know just how to approach such a sad subject.
Finally she spoke. "I know how you feel, Jack. When the Giantess destroyed my mother's grave, I felt as though the whole world was lost, but I realized something later on about losing things we hold dear." Cinderella waited for Jack's response, but heard nothing, so she decided to cautiously continue on. "It's not the item that holds your memories; not the cow or the tree. The lost will always be in your heart."
Jack finally turned back to Cinderella, a tear and a slight smile on his face. "Your words might be true, but it's so hard to accept them."
Cinderella placed a hand on Jack's back. "And that's part of grief. You'll never completely get over it, but you can accept it and move on." She smiled wide then. "You can start by coming indoors before you catch cold."
Jack nodded, shivering for the first time from the weather. "Yes, I'm sure I can manage that." He looked up at the sky and said, "Goodnight, Milky White."
Cinderella looked out at the stars beginning to emerge in the sky. "Goodnight, Milky White," she agreed quietly.
The two of them walked back into the cabin together, both thinking of the good cow Milky White and all the other angels they held close to their hearts as well. Red looked down to the floor of the cabin, pretending that she hadn't been watching them all this time. And though she had no idea what the former princess and young man had said that had changed Jack's mood so quickly, she somehow felt the need to think back to her mother and grandmother, both gone for years now.