Ninian’s face was still pale. Eliwood paused for a moment as he watched her sleep, thankful that she was capable of finding some small peace in the moments when rest claimed her body and the pain felt further away.
The candlelight did nothing to impress; it only highlighted her premature suffering. The lines on her skin belied her age. It would be soon, now, he knew—in the way that a person sometimes just does.
He had known when he married her that her life would not be a long one, and yet felt that even eternity would feel too short if he was somehow able to share it with her.
The bed groaned softly as he sat on the edge of the mattress, but it was probably the movement that woke her. She murmured his name, fingers twitching atop the blanket. A request for his hand. He gave her his left, and stroked back her tangled hair with his right.
“I just wanted to bid you good night,” he said.
As long as they had been married he had taken the time to wish her a good night, and he had always waited as long as it took for her to tell him she would see him in the morning. It was the kind of tradition that meant nothing to most people, but everything to him.
She said nothing, only blinked at him as if waking from a long dream.
“Are you warm enough?” he asked to break the silence, adjusting her blankets, fussing with the pillow. “Comfortable enough?”
She nodded, the barest movement, and croaked out a horrible little, “…Yes.” She tried to smile, but it was wobbly and sad, the kind of smile the dying gave to comfort the ones who would outlive them.
Eliwood’s world narrowed.
His kingdom for a healer who could cure her, he thought desperately, but there was no such thing.
“Okay,” he said, his voice a murmur. He hid himself, pressing kisses to her forehead and cheek, feather-light breaking-heart tender, and stayed there a moment, wishing for outcomes he could not actualize.
“Ninian,” he said when he could stomach speaking, meaning a thousand things more than just her name. I love you. I’ll be fine. It’s okay. But not goodbye. Never goodbye. He pulled back and made himself smile, hoped it looked real, but nothing had ever gotten by Ninian.
Even now she could see through his building sorrow to the scrap of a man buried beneath. Her fingers made the slightest movement against his and he understood it was a gesture of comfort. Five years ago she’d have taken his hand, raised it to her lips and kissed it, told him that he would persevere.
She had been reduced to this.
It was wrong that she should have to comfort him when she was the one doing the leaving, but he didn’t know how to stop her, and a part of him didn’t want to.
A spark of determination exploded in her eyes as her fingers squeezed his again, the movement stronger than before. “No,” she told him, “not yet…” It was gone almost as suddenly as it had come. Her fingers grew limp in his hand, eyelids fluttering closed, voice fading. “I shan’t…”
Another spell, he thought, and knew it would be the last. “Good night,” he said, cupping her face, thumb stroking her cheek.
Her reply, when it came, was little more than a breath. “…I’ll…see…”
He waited for more, but it never came.
When the silence became too much, he swallowed hard and reached for the candle. “…you in the morning,” he whispered at last, and blew out the candle with a shuddering breath.