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Here Lies Sleeping Beauty

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Hanako is a monster. 

 

He’s been told that since the day he and Tsukasa were born. All the other fairies made it very clear that they didn’t belong, what with their side glances and snide remarks. It was actually considered a miracle to hear a compliment drip from their lips, albeit a backhanded one. 

 

Humans weren’t much better in all honesty. Too often, Hanako would hear their hushed whispers, each one growing in foolishness. 

 

‘Hey, did you hear? There are two brothers who fell from the Heavenly Sky. Apparently they were cast out...’

 

Hanako shook his head. Leave it to humans to be so ignorant. 

 

“Hey, hey, Amane!” his brother called, feet landing on a hardy branch. The swerve made the nearby birds fly away, with Amane breaking from his sleep. He untethered his arms behind his head and sat up, unamused by his twin’s disruptive shriek. 

 

“What do you want, Tsukasa?” he yawned. He’d been having such a wonderful nap. Couldn’t Tsukasa see that?

 

But like always, Tsukasa flitted around mindlessly, unknowing and uncaring of the world around him. From the wave of his arms and the cheer of his hums, he seemed to be in a good mood. 

 

For better or worse.

 

Tsukasa leaned his head down, eyes black and unbounded.

 

“I heard there’s a party going on at the castle,” he whispered, branches cracking under his tightened fist. On air, he stepped closer to the glade’s edge, overlooking the royal estate. “Apparently there’s a new baby there.” He rocked back and forth on his tiptoes, arms were crossed behind his back, it was a pose Hanako was all-too-familiar with. “Everyone’s invited, you know… Everyone except us.” 

 

Hanako joined him at his side, feet anchored as he took in the far-off sight. By the looks of it, the people were having fun, brightly colored flags and lights popping off in the sunset sky. Though Hanako had lived through many celebrations (for both humans and fae), none had ever looked as joyous as this one.

 

A shudder ran down his spine.

 

“So?” he mused. 

 

Tsukasa snickered, tilting his head in taciturn glee. 

 

“Sooooo…”



Why don’t we have some fun?”

 

.

.

.

 

Cursing the newborn princess to die was a bit extreme. Apparently Tsukasa’s definition of fun was crashing the royal party and cursing the baby, not a game of charades like Hanako had hoped. 

 

‘It’s only fair,” Tsukasa shrugged, “They invited all the powerful mages except us ? For shame.” Like a child, he shook his head and clicked his tongue, making a show of how upset he was. “Humans oughta learn their place, you know~ The other fae too.”

 

Hanako grimaced as he remembered their kind’s disapproving stares. How the partygoers had recoiled at their fiery wake. The other blessings bestowed on the child were thrown to the wind, all replaced by trickling dread. Combined, he and Tsukasa had casted their most powerful spell, letting the whole kingdom know that their princess would meet a young and tragic demise, all at the touch of a little spindle. It wasn’t till Hanako met the eyes of his former mentor that he felt awry, altering the curse to a sleep-like death. Only true love could break the curse now and heavens know that wasn’t real. 

 

Walking to his cave, Hanako shrugged his shoulders, shaking off the sore feeling in his gut. 

 

True love, huh. 

 

Girl was as good as dead. 

 

.

.

.

 

Hanako wasn’t used to visitors. 

 

No mortal even dared to venture in his neck of the woods. After all the rumors about wayward travelers and mythical beasts, the forest had grown quite tranquil the past few years. If a little unkempt. The only humans who tried to meet him were the selfish ones, prodding on about how they deserved a wish.

 

Tch. He hated them the most. Always adventuring. Always squabbling. It reminded him why he liked being alone. 

 

So when he found a young girl (a pretty one at that) at the edge of his humble abode- he wasn’t really sure what to make of it. 

 

“Hello?” she called, voice echoing. “Is anyone there?” Her footsteps drew closer, and in an instant, he was hyperaware of her stocky ankles.

 

How cute. 

 

Floating to the brim of the cave, Hanako allowed her to be swallowed by darkness, watching her every move as she drew closer and closer. When she was near enough, he roared, morphing his hands to claws while he unfurled his wings. The fire he released lit the cavern walls, showing her fallen hood and long, shimmering hair. He hovered above her, toothy, roguish grin at full-display. His pupils turned to slits as his honey eyes glowed, serpentine gaze locked onto his sweet guest.

 

“I’m here~” 

 

He expected her to run away. To scream and holler about some monster in the woods. Most often did at the first sign of flames.

 

But to his surprise, she came forward, inspecting him with a jarred brow.

 

“A… dragon?” She shook her head and sighed into her palms, heaving a heavy groan. Then she screamed. “Ahhhhhh- I thought I was going to find a fairy godmother. Or a forest nymph! O-Or maybe even a genie lamp?!?” She paced around her spot, jittering like a squirrel in chase. “I didn’t think I’d run into some- some… dragon-pixie?” 

 

He set his heels to the ground, feeling a strange wave of offense wash over him. 

 

“You really think I’m some sort of a pixie?” he snorted. 

 

Her eyes raked over his form, and suddenly, he felt a little shy, wholly unprepared for his own question. 

 

She tilted her head at him, sheepishly scratching her fair cheek.

 

“It would explain the height.”

 

Listen,”

 

Before he could say anything else- and boy, did he want to- she bowed her head and choked on her sobs, muffling a few sorries as she shook her hands in shame. All words died down on his tongue, mind boggled by the change in tone. Had humanity gone mad the past few years? What was even happening?

 

“I- I’m sorry,” she sniffled, “I didn’t mean to sound so rude. It’s just that I- I thought that I was going to get my wish today.” She wiped away a few tears. “I’ve been searching all over the forests and valleys to find someone who could help.” Her voice cracked. “I must look really stupid...”

 

A snake wrapped around Hanako’s heart, crushing it as he took in her weepy face. Any irritation he felt melted into pity, with his thumb reaching out to pinch her cheeks. If Tsukasa were here, he’d mock him for being so soft. 

 

“Hey, now, don’t make that face,” he cooed. Why he wasn’t kicking her out was anyone’s guess, but at that moment, it didn’t feel right. “Maybe I can help,” he offered, “just try to stop crying.” 

 

She nodded her head, collecting herself with a small handkerchief.

 

Hanako grinned. “That’s better.” He hovered above her, brows fixed curiously. “Now what’s your wish?” 

 

She smiled earnestly- beautifully, sincerity dripping from her honey-toned voice. “I wish to meet my true love.” 

 

It took everything in him not to roll his eyes. Ugh. Of course that’s what she’d wish for. 

 

Which was a shame, honestly. He thought she was rather cute.

 

“Ok then, what’s your name?” he asked, shoving away the disappointment.

 

A blush was brought on by her willowy fingers, which took him by the hands as she hummed cheerily, smile as bright as the moon and stars.

 

“My name is Yashiro Nene!” 

 

Just like that, his breath dropped, hitting the bottom of his gut as magma boiled under his skin and veins. The smile. The hair. The eyes. The way life and beauty clung onto her like a silent ghost. He’s heard that name before. He’s seen her. The magic at his fingertips trickled right through his nerves as he beheld her, feeling the all-consuming grip of his past catch him by the collar, reminding him of what he’d done a lifetime ago. 

 

Her lifetime ago.





Oh. 

 

Oh no. 

 

.

.

 

Hanako is a monster.

 

Amane, not so much. 

 

The name of his past should’ve bothered him, but it was the only name he could think of when she asked, all wide-eyed and merry, too good for this world and his.

 

He’d learned an awful lot about her as well. How she was raised in a cottage glen. How she was all alone. How she had been brought up by an ‘Aunt Sumire.’ 

 

He snickered when the name came out. That fairy was too kind for her own good. He could see it now- the king and queen fretting over their baby, Sumire offering to protect her. The king and queen probably hoped to hide Nene away in the forest till her eighteenth birthday.

 

Ironic, considering how she searched him out. 

 

Nene waved her hand in front of his face, crimson eyes filled with worry.

 

“Hey, Amane, are you ok? Did you not like the food?”

 

His attention was brought towards their picnic, their food and plates shuffled away. To think he’d eat and talk with a human so casually was laughable, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to refuse. 

 

“I did,” he answered, leaning in to cup her face. His grin grew tenfold when heat raged against his palms, her red-stained cheeks matching her two-toned eyes. “I was just wondering what I’d have for dessert~”

 

She pouted at him, slapping his arm lightly. 

 

.

.

.

 

Their friendship was an oddity.

 

Almost every day, she came with a new story or scheme for true love, citing tales of far-off places and daring sword fights, maybe even a prince in disguise. She was a real romantic, that was for sure. 

 

Still, he couldn’t say that he hated it. As naive as she was, she was kind, treating him with more care than he ever thought possible. There were picnics and walks and talks of life, a whole world of things he didn’t know. She told him stories and brought him presents, gifting little things along the way. By her seventh visit, his home was stocked to the brim with her flowers. In each meeting, he found himself enraptured, taken in by her innocence and comforting voice. More often than not, he'd wait by the cave's entrance, seeking out her speck of ivory hair.

 

But not today. Oh no, not today. 

 

Fire flew from his nose as he sneezed, chills pricking his legs and spine. His huffing breath consumed his lungs, with bile singeing his throat at times. Death didn’t seem like such a bad option at that point.

 

He was about to roll over when he felt a cold compress on his head, as well as the gentle brush of hands along his bangs.

 

“Oh, Amane…” Nene hushed, “I’m so sorry.” She shuffled to her bag, getting out some herbs and tools. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be ok.” 

 

Nene got to work on his body and opened his chest to the air. She fought a blush as she wiped off his sweat, hands flinching from his body’s heat. Sharp scales lined his arms, ready to jab anything in sight. 

 

“D-Don’t,” he wheezed, shakily gripping her wrist. “Your hands are gonna get ruined.” 

 

The rough calluses and scales on his body would surely burn her fingers. His magic was most volatile at his physical low. It’d be a miracle if she didn’t get hurt. 

 

She shook him off politely. “I don’t care,” she sassed, readjusting his head. Next thing he knew, she was crushing up medicine, rubbing it on his torso to cool him down. His cotton-filled head blinked back a few stray tears, overwhelmed by the tingling sensations. Though his nostrils were clogged, he could still make out the faint smell of tea and ginger. He couldn't remember a time he was this pampered. 

 

His eyes adjusted to the light, hypnotized by her long hair and soft beauty. He was getting dizzy, but he had enough strength for this. 

 

After rising up, he kissed her jaw, falling to his back clumsily. He must’ve hit his head pretty hard, the nape of his neck was throbbing. 

 

"You're too pretty," he murmured, voice delirious and dreamy. His mind spiraled. For the life of him, he couldn't remember what he just said, or the look on her face when he fell. He just knew he wanted to say more. For a brief second, he thought he felt a pair of lips press against his head, giggling at him and his stupidity. 

 

Then again, it was probably just the flu talking.

 

.

.

.

 

“You know my Aunt Sumire said I was blessed with beauty,” Nene said, fiddling with the knots of her latest project. She scowled at the tangles. “Hard to believe with ankles like these.”

 

Hanako set himself against the tree trunk, brows drawn up in faux-thought. “Is that so?” he chuckled lightly. “I don’t think she’s wrong though. Some people really like fat ankles~” 

 

He barely missed the slap on his stomach. Still, he laughed as she grumbled to herself, aggressively placing her daisy chain atop his head. He took it, lovingly, snickering at her puffed cheeks. She was just too easy to mess with.

 

When the tension eased up, she played with his dark hair, humming softly when the breeze rolled by. He sank his head into her lap, noting the faint scent of lilac and strawberries. 

 

“What blessing would you have given me?” she asked. “Patience? Virtue? Thinner ankles?”

 

He scoffed. Only she would want that last one.

 

“Hmmmm… probably nothing.”

 

“Oh I see, because I’m hopeless, right?” She pouted at him, arms crossed, unaware of his head leaving her lap. “Hmph. You can be so rude sometimes.”

 

“That’s not it.” 

 

He took hold of her chin and lifted it slightly, effectively gazing into her eyes. With the wave of his fingers, a rose appeared, petals full and thorns plucked. He tucked it behind her left ear, watching every facial expression. He smiled at the scarlet beneath his palms.

 

 “It’s ‘cause I like you the way you are.” 

 

Nene sat there, flustered. Red-faced and uncomposed. Mutely, she went back to picking clovers and daisies, ignoring the teasing jabs from her companion. By nightfall, she settled into his side and fiddled with more flowers, voice stringing a quiet love song.

 

.

.

.

 

With each visit and each adventure, Hanako realized just how lonely they really were. 

 

She had almost gone her whole life being alone, left to her own devices as fate toiled away. She had her garden. She had her flowers. She had a few woodland creatures to keep her company. But none could really fill the void in her aching chest. Aside from her aunt and herself, she had no one, only a few dreams of what could’ve been. 

 

He knew that feeling all too well. 

 

So when she sat with him one day, leaning on his shoulder while they looked towards the stars, he started to understand her wish for true love. 

 

“Do you think he’s out there?” she whispered, lashes fluttering. They sat comfortably by his fire, their bodies covered by her thick blanket. 

 

He smoothed his thumb over her hand, ignoring the jealousy that thrummed his chest. “I think so,” he answered. “It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?” 

 

Love had always been a stranger to him. After keeping to himself for so long, could he even say that he was capable? Love was more like a folktale or a distant dream, not something he could really grasp. 

 

Her fingers fastened themselves in his hold, brushing against his knuckles and wrist. For some reason she avoided his gaze, a subtle pink dyeing her ears and cheeks. 

 

“What about you, Amane? What do you wish for?” 

 

Lots of things, in all honesty. He had never been one for wishes, but lately, they were all he thought about. A second chance, he hoped. For time to just stop. Their moments together were drawing to a close, and he couldn’t have been more terrified. 

 

“Nothing,” he shrugged, propping his arm by the knee. “It’s not like any of mine will come true.” 

 

For the first time, she gave him a look he couldn’t quite dissect, one that seeped with pity… maybe even sadness. If she saw through his lie, then she left it at that, choosing to sing a lullaby as moonlight danced across their bodies. Sleep started to overtake them as he warmed her hands, praying to a God who’d never hear him. 

 

I want you to be happy.

 

He ruffled her bangs and set her down gently, suddenly hating the sight of her sleeping face. In a moment of weakness, he kissed her forehead, mourning the words that left his mouth.

 

 

 

“I want you to live.”

 

.

.

.

 

Hanako is a monster.

 

He knows this. 

 

He’s a liar. A crook. A thief. 

 

A fool in love. 

 

The dread he felt the night before Nene’s birthday was unmatched. For the past few days, he’d been distancing himself, chest aching every time he looked at her. He hoped that staying in the forest would keep her safe, but even then, fate had twisted a way of making things work. 

 

He sighed into his palms, listening to the rain. The urge to see her was immense, but he knew it wasn’t right. How could it be? 

 

Which is why it astounds him when she enters his cave, soaked to the bone as she pleads for them to run away. 

 

She tugged on his hands and sobbed, egging him on as he stood in place. It seemed like Sumire had told her the truth.

 

“Amane, please! I don’t want to leave the forest! I don’t want to be a princess, either. I- I- I don’t want to lose you .” She grabbed at him once again, frustrated. “Come on, we can find another place in the forest. Somewhere far away.” After a few seconds of tugging and failing, she fell to her knees, sobs wracking her cold, cold body. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”

 

Instead of giving in and helping her up, he stood listlessly, lips frozen in place. He always knew this day would come. He’s thought of it. He’s imagined it. 

 

But no imagination could ever perceive this spiraling nightmare.

 

“If it’s your destiny, then why fight it?” he said bluntly. He turned to walk away from her, heart breaking in each step. He’d already come this far. Why not deal the finishing blow? “You’ll be getting everything you want, right? A prince, a castle, pretty dresses.” He chuckled cruelly. “Sounds like your dream is coming true.”  

 

Gathering herself from the floor, she stomped over to him, confused, aghast, even a bit worried. When they came face to face, sadness flashed across her eyes, then fury.

 

Nene shook his shoulders and twisted her brows, jabbing at him as he failed to respond. “What the heck is wrong with you?!” she shrieked. “Don’t you see? I don’t want that wish anymore! I don’t want that destiny…” She buried her head in his chest, and for a brief moment of kindness, he let it slide, fighting off the urge to embrace her. “Don’t you care that I’m leaving? Don’t you want to see me anymore...” 

 

Hanako took a deep breath.

 

She didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve her. He didn’t deserve her kindness. Or her warmth. Or her sorrow. He was born as nothing and should’ve stayed as nothing.

 

Nothing but a monster.

 

He pushed her away and scoffed. “Why would I?” he answered, calloused and cold. 

 

“Amane…” Her chest rose and fell rapidly, hurt seeping through her cracks. “I don’t understand. I thought... I thought you liked me?”

 

Hanako grit his teeth and clenched his fist, voice dull and to the point.




“Who do you think cursed you?” 




Seconds flew by as she stood there. To him, an eternity. He had lived through countless run-ins with warlocks and beasts and spirits alike. He had fought through epic battles and never-ending wars. But no deadly threat or sharpened sword could have ever hurt him as much as her weeping face.

 

“You’re lying...” she whispered. She shook her head in disbelief. “Please… tell me you’re lying...” Through their bleary haze, her eyes searched for answers, gauging any light of hope he could give her. When she found nothing, she hung her head and grieved, the weight of his silence crushing her.

 

“Yashiro-”

 

She flinched away when he reached out his hand, sobbing into her trembly palms. She ran out of his cave and into the rain, wails lost to the stormy night. 

 

And Hanako stood in his forest the same way he had for many, many years:

 

Alone.

 

.

.

.

 

Once the dawn of Nene’s birthday arrived, Hanako knew it was too late.

 

When he cast his gaze to the old, stone castle, fear tore the pit of his stomach. His worries were answered when a flash of magic sent ripples down his spine, letting him know that his spell was complete.

 

Visions of Nene dashed across his eyes, each face more sorrowful than the last. He saw her weeping, he saw her falling. He saw the spindle that ended it all. All eighteen years of her life had led to this one moment and the prophecy had been fulfilled. When he caught wind of her voice, he teared up, hearing her last wish before she closed her eyes forever.

 

Amane.  

 

.

.

.

 

Hanako is a monster. 

 

He always has been. He always will be. 

 

He’s accepted it.

 

It’s a role he plays into when he stays by Nene’s side.

 

In his moment of grief, magic briars tread up the castle, ensnaring and destroying anything in their path. They curved over the moat, flurried over the bridge, climbed up any wall. With each day Nene didn’t wake, more and more briars grew. Roses would bloom every so often, decorating the stony walls with buds of pink and green. At some point, Hanako placed Nene’s body in the highest tower, ensuring that no one would harm his sleeping beauty. 

 

It was hard to see her like that. So lifeless and numb. Too often he’d have to turn his head away, feeling unworthy of such a sight. All Hanako could do was lay a blanket across her gown and tether flowers in her hair, mourning the loss of her starry smile. He hoped she was having a happy dream, living a life he couldn’t give her.

 

He sighed by her bed. After seeking out countless magicians and wiser fae, none had been able to help him. ‘Sounds troublesome,’ they told him. ‘Looks like you’re on your own.’

 

His first thought was to seek out Sumire. Like he predicted, she paid no attention to his pleas, too distraught by the loss of her friend and niece. The slap she laid on his cheek stung like electricity. 

 

Not that he was undeserving. 

 

Then he looked to Yako and Tsuchigomori, hoping they’d have enough pity in their hearts to ease his suffering. Both had been surprised by his knee-deep bow and candid eyes, but both gave mixed results.

 

“It’s your mess,” the fox spirit said, turning her nose the other way. “Now deal with it.” She hopped onto her stone platform, bells and tail swishing. “Maybe it’s better if you leave her to die,” she added. “Humans are more trouble than they’re worth.”

 

Hanako clenched his fist. 

 

“Would you have said the same about Misaki?”

 

Nothing else was said before he left her realm, back singed by her somber rage.

 

When Hanako approached his old teacher, the taller man looked at him wearily, heaving his own sigh of disappointment.

 

“Just what have you been doing, Amane?” Tsuchigomori ran his gloved hands through his silver hair, massaging his temples on the way down. He groaned before huffing his smoke pipe, discontent cut and dry. “It’s best if you seek out your brother. If you can’t break the curse, then undo it. The spell will need both of your powers if that’s the case.”

 

Like he hadn’t thought of that before.  

 

Storming past the many books and artifacts, Hanako released his wings, frustration overtaking his brow. He heard a brief wish of ‘good luck’ before he took off, subsiding his pain for a few seconds. 

 

Getting Tsukasa to help was downright impossible. Absolutely ridiculous. With all his hare-brained schemes and unpredictable thoughts, Hanako was better off doing this alone. Tsukasa was the one that wanted to curse a goddamn baby. There was no telling what he’d do if Hanako saw him now.  

 

There was only one option left on the table.

 

And he was going to hate every minute of it.

 

.

.

.

 

The first prince to awaken Nene was Prince Teru. A prince so horrendously perfect, the sparkles could split Hanako’s eyes. Teru’s tall. And blond. And- ugh, all the other things Nene could ever want in a fairytale prince. Hanako hated him. Absolutely hated him. But he had been the only one to get past Hanako’s traps, making him the first worthy person to wake Nene from her sleep. 

 

Hanako parted the bedframe’s curtains, letting light dance onto the silk sheets and pillows. Nene laid there gracefully, palms holding a thicket of wildflowers.

 

He turned towards Teru. “You only get one chance,” he grit. “If anything goes wrong-”

 

“You’ll kick me out, I know, I know.” Teru chuckled knowingly, ice-blue eyes delighting in Hanako’s temper. He waved his hand and kneeled before the bed, feeling Hanako’s watchful stare bleed into him. “But before I do anything,” his pupils trailed to Hanako’s, “you must promise not to harm anyone with your magic ever again. That much you owe me.”

 

Hanako nodded, swallowing his pride. 

 

Instead of kissing her on the cheek like expected, Teru reached out and brought forth one of her hands, laying a tender kiss on her frail knuckle, like a knight attending to his lady. 

 

They watched for movement, looking expectantly on the dreaming maiden, losing hope once a full minute ticked by. 

 

Teru let out a small sigh. “Oh well,” he shrugged. “I guess I’m not the one.” Though with his tone, he might’ve expected this. 

 

Before Hanako could vent his frustration, Teru was already out the door, sword sheathed and armor ready. “I’ll send my brother,” he said, harboring a vague smile. “He might have better luck.” 

 

.

.

.

 

The second prince to awaken Nene was Prince Kou. At first glance, Hanako could tell he had a good heart. He was kind and handsome and full of life, sky blue eyes brimming with the call for adventure. Kou swung his steel sword and wore his best armor, ready to take down any and all villains that stood in his way. His sense of justice knew no bounds, making him almost an exact clone of his brother.

 

Almost.

 

Unlike his brother, Kou was easy to mess with. He’d jump at the first sign of magic, get spooked when a sprite flew by. Hell, Hanako had to dodge his sword more times than he could count. As noble as Kou was, he was also young. Naive. He was a little too much like Nene for Hanako’s liking, but maybe that’s why he was easier to accept. 

 

“Alright, kid, are you ready?”

 

Kou rocked on his feet, bright blushing creeping up his neck and ears. 

 

He stood aimlessly, heart spiked by tiny, invisible arrows. Since he’d taken a glance at the Nene, his chest couldn’t stop thumping. Six seconds passed before he leaned over her, shutting his eyes in hesitation. He drew closer to her bedside… and leaned closer… and closer… and closer.

 

Then sunk his head in defeat. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Hanako asked. “What are you waiting for?”

 

“It’s just…” The blond ran his hands through his hair, bravado shaken. “This doesn’t feel right.” He got up from the bedside and paced the room, palming his sweat as he stared at Nene, lips downturned. “How could I be her true love? I’ve barely known her for one hour- let alone one day.” He shook his head. “It’s just not right. I shouldn’t have come here-”

 

Before Kou could take one more step, Hanako appeared right in front of him, begging him with solemn eyes.

 

Please try.” 

 

Kou wasn’t sure what came over him then. Maybe it was fatigue from the long journey or maybe it was the wistful stare of amber eyes- he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he was hovering over the slumbering princess, laying a meek kiss to her tender cheek.

 

Disappointment rang in the air as she failed to wake up, eyes still closed to the world. Kou hung his head by her bedside, feeling the weight of loss seep in. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’m not her true love.”

 

When he turned around, Kou thought he’d seen a shadow, frozen in time as the sun nearly set.

 

“It’s ok,” Hanako whispered, bangs falling in his eyes. “Really, it’s ok.”

 

Who he was convincing, neither were sure.

 

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.

.

 

The third prince was abysmal. 

 

Embarrassing was the only way Hanako could describe him. 

 

Natsuhiko was sluggish. He was slow. He was creepy. He was boring. He was strange. As far as looks went, he fit Nene’s checklist: tall, fair-faced, slender. His expression was a little off-putting, sure, but Nene might’ve liked his laidback style. 

 

But there was something so… off about him. There was just no way to describe it. How he got through Hanako’s traps and puzzles was anyone’s guess, but judging by the cinders on his cloak and the cuts on his body, Hanako attuned his worth to resilience rather than any sort of skill. Maybe some luck too. After taking in his auburn hair and droopy, hollow eyes, Hanako’s nerves felt amiss, realizing that Kou, Teru- anyone, would be a better match for Nene.

 

Anyone except this… this…

 

Clown. 

 

Teru wasn't the worst option at this point. Was the blond kid still around? Maybe Hanako could bring him back.

 

The moment Hanako saw Natsuhiko cupping Nene’s chin, intent on kissing her lips, he raged

 

“That’s enough. Get out.”

 

Natsuhiko flinched, pupils flicking side-to-side. “What? But I- I haven’t even kissed her?”

 

“Doesn’t matter. Get out.”

 

Any attempts to resist were gone in a flash. With the snap of two bony fingers, Natsuhiko was carried away by a mystical cloud, left to fall into the castle moat. It was mean-spirited (Hanako could admit that much), but it was partly deserved. Who did he think he was? Rushing into a kiss like that. Tch, Nene deserved much better.

 

Hanako readjusted the flowers in her hair and palms, fixing the mistake that was Natsuhiko. He ruffled her bangs and thumbed her cheek, breaking away in a huff.

 

“You wouldn’t have liked that one, Yashiro. That guy had a cat face and did this weird puckering thing with his lips- Ugh. You’ll thank me later.”

 

Silence.

 

“Hey, don’t give me that look. He wasn’t that handsome.”

 

Again, silence. 

 

The sun had started to set on the horizon, colors bleeding into the darkness of night. The birds chirped, the light dimmed, the wind swayed; all things continued to march with the brush of time. The flowers would soon wilt and the day would start again, Nene left behind in her constant sleep. Never again would he see her fiery eyes or hear her precious laugh. He’d go another day, searching, waiting, hoping- regretting . Hanako fell to his knees at her bedside and fought back tears, heartbroken smile in view to no one.

 

“Come on, Nene, wake up...” 

 

Hanako caressed her jaw, missing her smile more than ever.

 

I’d break my heart into a million pieces if it meant yours could beat again,’ he thought. ‘Even if it beat for someone else.’

 

Ever so gently, he kissed her on the forehead, remembering that cold, distant night of stargazing. Whatever she dreamt, he hoped she was happy. 

 

He broke away from her, prepared to gather the curtains and let her sleep.

 

Only to feel a tug on his cloak.

 

His eyes widened.

 

“Amane...” she whispered, eyes wet and dreamy. “You’re finally here.”

 

He didn’t even have the time to respond before she clutched onto him, anger, relief, and sadness boiling over. ‘You’re such an idiot!’ she cried. ‘Such an idiot...’ She pounded at his chest and threw him down for a hug, relaxing her face into the crook of his neck. 

 

Slowly, he returned her hug, soothing her back with the brush of his fingers. He found himself overwhelmed, overjoyed by her lively punches. She kissed him all over as she relayed her insults and worries, screamed all the things she wanted to say during their time apart.  

 

“Yashiro,” he began, “I’m so sorry. I-”

 

A finger pressed against his mouth. “Shhhhhh,” she hushed, letting their bodies rest against the mattress. She settled her face against chest and cradled him close, intent on never letting him go. “Just let me have this.” 

 

They laid in her bed together, Hanako kiss-bruised and arms sore. For a princess, she really knew how to pack a punch.

 

Hanako tightened his hold on her frame, chuckling dryly at all that had happened. ‘I missed you’ was exchanged as they cuddled. There were a million things they could say, but they let it go, opting for a few more minutes of silence.

 

Nene, still angry, poked at him a few times, scolding him for all he'd done. Just as quickly, she sighed into chest, a relieved smile plaguing her lips. When she squeezed his hand and brought it to her heart, it gave him hope they’d be ok. 

 

Hanako sighed graciously. He kissed Nene’s temple and fell back again, becoming one with the feather pillows and silk sheets. He looked to her, assured that she was living and breathing and right here in his arms.

 

He smiled to himself. 

 

Yeah.

 

They’d be ok.