He doesn’t see the vermillion shadow anymore. No more canopy to greet him behind the veil of giddy-exhaustion, a terror styled in tasteful red; only negative space, any sort of distance indistinguishable, like a variable that only knows he must become zero. In the late-night drift he feels it, a clean divide between himself and the world he occupies, purposefully-dim lighting and plain nightshirts reducing him once more to anonymous occupant rather than venerated guest, in another lifetime where every greeting tangles inevitably into a one-sided, four-syllabled endeavor. He’d have hardly recalled the other person’s name if he could help it– but memory has always been a rather complex thing. Sometimes you remember and sometimes you don’t.
“But you don’t miss it, do you?”
Kurt sounds concerned again. The line of his shoulder bends, arches; imperceptibly, already shrinking into something all too easy to offload on a particularly vexing mathematical equation. The sunlight blares warm and crisp on Cedric’s face, and it’s nothing new, of course, that he can barely see anything of Kurt at all.
“What a foolish thing to ask,” he tells his homework, sentences scrawled forcibly in harsh strokes of graphite, nothing like the loopy letters his sister had once giggled about, years ago, the memory ringing vaguely as he’d stood as much as his infirm body was able and told his father it wasn’t St. Astraia he would be enrolling himself in. And then he’d bent, halfway rolled over and hacked up enough of a lung to make the entire five minutes of ten-year-old grandstanding moot, anyway. “It was the first and only time I ever felt strong. But it was all pretend in the end. You might as well ask whether a mouse misses the dream of being a lion– whereas in the waking world he could only cower for scraps under a cat's claws. A silly question, no?”
The Kurt he knew of the past might’ve flinched. Cedric might’ve caught it, a sharp turn of chin and neck to dispel enough light out of his peripheral vision, substituted with clarity, some kind of petty joy that for all the meaninglessness of his assertions, all the cold comforts he’d whispered to himself to dampen patronizing praises and his father’s expectant gaze and his siblings’ implacable, cloyingly warm smiles– there was one person to which his words would always ring true as a leaden bell, striking with the precision of a lancet, meant to slice through rather than draw blood. One person, so useless yet so irreplaceable; and Cedric used to think he could’ve worked on every caveat, molded Kurt out of his outlandish complexes and stuttering reticence about a waist too narrow or shoulders too frail, like Cedric had simply been too good, too princely and self-consumed to have heard it all before.
But Kurt merely smiles, mutedly, as he tilts his face towards Cedric’s, like if he didn’t he wouldn’t know it was there. His upturned mouth. That small measure of pitying kindness. “Maybe,” he acquiesces. “I miss being able to talk to you like this.”
“It was a terrible, disgusting thing. It was the one and only time I ever felt strong,” Cedric says. “I remember when my hand hadn’t enough strength to grasp a sword.”
He’d have taken anything to not remember that feeling again. A part of him had felt repulsed, hearing the things he was saying, the things he wanted to do– but all the while with his hand on the metaphorical trigger there had been a sort of relief, mixed in with the loathing. It was terrible and it was disgusting; and yet somehow lovely, to know he could sink yet deeper, and with his hands around the little Black Rabbit’s neck he’d felt as though he wasn’t crushing a pulseless windpipe, but rather the fragments of his unseen future, too sterile and meek and unbloodied to be worth anything at all.
But in the end it wasn’t power or a broadsword or a continent-wide war that could close the gap that had been drawn between them. No. He’d never needed any of that at all.
Cedric looks up. It's dark again. But time is pitiless, and somewhere over the skyline, the sun is waiting to rise.
“I'm glad you're here, Your Highness,” Kurt murmurs, and no one said that, no one at all. He was only dreaming.