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Cliche Endings Need Not Apply (except for that one)

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A rich man's wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, "Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you." With this she closed her eyes and died.

The girl went out to her mother's grave every day and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white cloth over the grave, and when the spring sun had removed it again, the man took himself another wife.

This wife brought two daughters into the house with her. They were beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts. Times soon grew very bad for the poor stepchild.

"Why should that stupid goose sit in the parlor with us?" they said. "If she wants to eat bread, then she will have to earn it. Out with this kitchen maid!"

They took her beautiful clothes away from her, dressed her in an old gray smock, and gave her wooden shoes. "Just look at the proud princess! How decked out she is!" they shouted and laughed as they led her into the kitchen.

~

Desmond didn't mind having his fine clothes taken away and replaced. It was a lot of fiddly, scratchy layers that he hated wearing because he could never seem to stop fidgeting with it. Fidgeting that inevitably led to him tearing the fine cloth and getting yelled at by his dad. The plain shirts and pants were a revelation in and of themselves. The boots that didn't pinch or make him trip were unbelievable.

He didn't mind losing his room either. Sure, his room up in the tower is smaller, but his room is up in a tower. It didn't get better than that. It isn't like it's drafty or anything either. The manor was built to last and he was just as good there as anywhere else.

He also really didn't mind not being allowed to sit in on the 'family' activities. There was only so much snipping from Juno and drunken ramblings about his dead mom from his dad he could stand to hear. Also, Vidic was one creepy man and Desmond's still trying to figure out how he can be Juno's son. Haytham is better but a boring man when he gets going on something.

It's no big loss, any of it, as far as Desmond is concerned. What he can't stand though are the orders to work.

"We have servants," Desmond says as he pokes at the fire place with a tiny shovel, trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing with any of it. "They're trained to do this, we pay them to do it. What's the point in making me do any of this?"

"Desmond," Haytham says in a long suffering drawl as he looks up from some book with a title he can't read. "Are you going to argue with the woman who turned my wife and son into mice just because I wouldn't wear the hat she told me to wear?"

Connor squeaks from the desk Haytham sits at and Desmond groans, because of course his dad had to get drunk and marry a witch. Ziio sits comfortably in the hollow where Haytham's shoulder and neck meet, and watches with the intelligent eyes that never let Desmond doubt Haytham's stories about Juno.

"But she can't expect me to be good at it," Desmond stubbornly insists. Soot spills out from the fire place and all over his hands despite his best effort to scrape it all into a neat little pile.

"Lord only knows what she expects. That's why I kept the servants on. All you have to do is muck about and look miserable enough to keep her happy," Haytham marks his place in his book and gently plucks Ziio off his shoulder. "Well, as happy as she can ever get. Leave that mess alone and let someone else clean it properly."

Desmond eagerly abandons the hearth and goes up to the desk. Connor immediately climbs onto his hand and up his sleeve to perch uncertainly on his shoulder. Desmond shudders as whiskers and fur tickle him with the movement and can't stop his giggles at it.

Haytham smiles a little and reaches one finger out to Connor as Ziio reaches out to flick at the hand Desmond still has on the desk. "Why don't you two go play in the garden for a while. Roll around in the dirt and pretend to weed if she sees you."

"Ok!" Desmond runs at the chance, but not so fast that Connor tumbles off. He really doesn't mind the way things are now. Sure, he misses his mom, but things could really be so much worse.

~

Juno is absolutely terrifying, and Desmond does his best to avoid his stepmother at all costs. Even going so far as to jump out of windows when there's no other escape option. He gets very, very good at climbing. Also, catching Connor, because his friend can't get a good enough grip on his shirt sometimes.

Desmond's trying to figure a way to fix that in the hard packed dirt area next to the stables, and completely fails to notice Juno's gliding form until she's looming over him.

"Desmond," her voice is accented oddly and Desmond cringes when he looks up into her glaring face. Connor curls up against his neck, and Desmond can feel the way his sides move from his rapid breathing despite the vaguely threatening noise he makes at her. "What are you doing out here?"

Desmond swallows and tilts his head down so that he's not looking her straight in the eyes. He hunches his shoulders and doesn't actually have to work very hard to appear miserable. "I'm turning over the rocks so that they get sun on both sides, stepmother."

There are no rocks, but Juno isn't actually someone who bothers with small details like that. Vidic the favored son, if favored was the right word to be used, often complained of how she missed the assassin hiding in the tree for the forest. Or something like that.

"Good," Juno's laugh is cruel and her shadow retreats. "A wretched thing like you should always be doing wretched tasks. When you are done here attend to the kitchen. There's a mess there that needs cleaning."

Desmond shudders and picks at the ground until he's somewhat sure she's gone. Connor stretches up and curls around his ear for a moment. His way of hugging, and Desmond smiles. "Thanks, let’s go see what she did to the kitchen though."

The kitchen is a mess. Pots lay everywhere, plates are shattered, and dried food liberally coats every surface. Rauf, the head cook, observes his destroyed kitchen with a critical eye as a bunch of other servants start to set things to right.

"Seriously?" Desmond creeps up to the large man and tries to keep out of everyone's way. The servants accept him as an oddity, but they tend to see him as a bothersome boy who gets in the way far too much. "She knows she's going to be the one who suffers later when dinner sucks, right?"

Rauf sighs and runs a knuckle roughly over his head. The man had been hired by his mother and is the only one left on the payroll from that time. "Not if we do not want to pay. Take this to Lord Haytham, Desmond," Rauf hands over a small bit of paper with tight writing on it. "This," he points to items with check marks next to it, "we need now to prevent the Lady's wrath from surfacing again. The rest can wait a bit longer. Now get along, before the merchants close."

Desmond sighs and goes to do as he's told. He's going to end up tagging along with Haytham and whoever can be spared from cleanup to get these things. A trip out to the smaller market that keeps everyone fed isn't entirely bad, but it means he's going to have to leave Connor behind. People don't react too well to seeing a mouse sitting on someone's shoulder.

"This is going to suck," he mutters and Connor agrees with a sharp sound.

~

Haytham's smile is charming and gracious but there's an underlying edge to it that makes the butcher start to sweat a bit. "I understand your intentions, my good sir," butter would not melt in his mouth, and Desmond watches in fascination as the butcher eases back up to the counter with obvious reluctance, "however as I have said, multiple times, I am willing to pay more for smaller cuts. It's regrettable that our larder was ruined so close to dinner, and while your concern for the integrity of our meal is touching, I'm afraid we must make do with what is on hand. Thus the smaller cuts of meat to cook faster. Your cooperation," and Desmond's never heard a word sound like such a threat before, "is very much appreciated. Now, I have a few more shops to see, but I will be back shortly to collect the meat."

They don't actually have any other shops to visit, but Desmond stumbles out after him anyway. The streets aren't as crowded as they normally are when he comes, and there's a few shops that are already closed despite the sun being high in the sky still. He sees Yusuf down the street, darting into a few doors while Rosa does the same on the opposite side. The two bodyguards Haytham employs know Juno's temper and are old hand at fixing her messes before she gets worked up even more over them.

They've got everything Rauf needs after the butcher is done and Haytham strolls down the street. Hands laced behind his back as he casually looks through the displays of the outside stalls, or peers into the windows of the permanent shops. "What even set her off this time?"

"Fruit, I believe," Haytham says and stops at a sweets seller. He nods at the woman behind the small table. She dimples back at them both, her hands already assembling an assortment of the sticky, hard candies into a paper bag. He doesn't elaborate further and it says something that Desmond doesn't need him to. He hands over a few coins and passes the bag to Desmond.

"Thank you," The smell of the candy makes his mouth water when he peers into the bag, but Desmond resists the temptation to eat one now. They're meant for him and Connor to share, and Connor gets upset if Desmond doesn't wait to let him choose which one he wants. Even though he knows his friend doesn't like the lemon flavored sweets and won't eat them at all.

"You are welcome," Haytham wraps a careful hand around Desmond's shoulder and steers him back to the cart they took to the market. He's smiling but it's tired and wistful now. "You're the same age as my son, Desmond. It's nice to see him have a friend even as he is."

Desmond doesn't have anything to say to that, and keeps quiet as he hops up onto the flat of the cart to wait. It's awkward when Haytham unbends enough to get a little emotional. It doesn't happen all that often though. Thankfully.

~

Connor chooses an almost black candy and Desmond carefully crushes it into smaller shards with a spoon before taking one of the lemon flavored ones for himself. He puts the rest of the candies into the bottom drawer of his dresser for later. Unconcerned about actual mice, because the upside of having Connor and Ziio in residence is that the animals tend to avoid them at all costs.

The candy is sweet with a little note of sourness that makes his jaw tingle as he drops back down to the floor beside Connor's plate. Connor's fur around his mouth and front paws gets sticky and spiked up fast. Desmond feels a twinge of envy at the fact that he gets to eat a candy the size of his head.

Connor eats fast, but Desmond's done with his candy long before he is. It gives him time to pour some water into a cup that Connor only stares at. "You know it gets worse if you let it dry, and then you've got ants chasing you trying to eat the candy off your fur."

Desmond pointedly doesn't laugh when Connor grudgingly climbs into the cup. The water slicks his fur down, making him look even smaller as he splashes around in it. He looks kind of ridiculous, but teasing him about it will only end with Desmond getting attacked in the middle of the night so he doesn't say a word as Connor comes up shaking. Water droplets flinging all around and his fur fluffing out ridiculously. Desmond yawns and doesn't bother looking for something to dry him with as he picks him up.

Connor will bite his fingers for trying and his small teeth hurt like nothing else when he draws blood. He crawls into the nest of cloth and padding Haytham had brought when Connor ended up falling asleep on Desmond's shoulder one too many times. The cloth soaking up the water as Desmond changes into a long shirt before falling into bed. "Night, Connor."

There's a noise but Desmond can't tell if it's Connor or not before he's asleep.