. . . . .
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
. . . . .

Frederic knows and does not know what his mind is telling him, a dark mess of jumbled thoughts and ideas and wants all tied together with the whispy-trailed ends of what may be called a dream. He knows, and does not want to know, what will happen next.

There are, he'd learned, seven hours of man and nine legs, all of them leading, slowly, inevitably, to the silent setting of the distant sun. Thus far, Frederic has met four of them; he fears he will meet the last of them by the end.

The first is a babe, its light brief, its wants base. It cries, and feeds, and is loved or not loved and grows bitter because of it. It does not know the intricacies of life or the brutality of time, only that it is hungry, or tired, or wet, and that there is a place that is warm and safe somewhere within its mother's arms. It trusts. Sometimes its trust is broken, and it cries and is comforted and trusts again.

And the babe grows into a boy, a boy with a slanted smile and a camera of canted glass. He grows into a boy but not out of his hope, not yet, still shy with optimism and flushed with righteous indignation, sure that this isn't how the world is supposed to be. He takes pictures and he takes sides, quick to anger, quick to love, quick to open his heart to the world with nothing to protect it. He still places his happiness into others' arms and trusts they will hold it, always, with a careful-tender warmth.

The boy grows again, becomes a lover, becomes a sullen silver poet with a razor-edged heart. He writes sonnets and picks fights, dreams of dusting off the smeared dirt of the world and revealing something exquisite underneath. He has picked up enough broken-eyed dolls to know that life is not beautiful, it is not beautiful, but there is a flicker of something deep within his chest that says we could make it into something worth loving, still. He looks at her, looks down at the crusted scabs that have formed over his wounded trust, and dares to hope again.

Next is the soldier, the straight-backed soldier with the long hair and the hollow laugh. He dreams not of love but frantic ambuscadoes and Spanish swords, of red blood spilled in the name of wars he's long since forgotten. He hopes for honor, and for justice, and for the power to save the world not for himself but for the people who might come after, the people who might be able to love it still. His rose-colored lens cracked with the ribs of his rose-colored girl, and he spends his days scratching furrows into the wrinkles of his brow and the lesions of his chest, tearing his breast asunder in all the places where his heart is meant to be.

Out of that fear grows a man who has sworn he will never know want again, one with golden curls and a golden crown and a dozen different layers between him and the world outside. He is strong, and warm, and frightened, a king filled with wisdom and not with common sense, too eager and too ready to hand his heart out to a woman he knows will drop it. He loves her. He loves her. He has forgotten what love has done. And so he waits, with bated breath and unsheathed sword, for her answer, waits to know the fate of an icy kingdom he has offered to let her hold.

And then—and then there is Frederic, quiet, thoughtful Frederic, with a bent spirit but a broken mind. He is the next stage, the staggered stage, the three-legged evening of a man that had once stood tall. He is lean and narrow and old, now, older than he cares to admit, swept aside by a world too wide for his ideals of childhood or his fears of age. They have dropped his heart, dropped it and let it be picked up again until he wrenched it out of their hands, sobbing, you monsters, you monsters, and he wishes he had given it up one more time and one more time and one more time, wishes he had let someone, anyone, hold it after. He wishes he had been more gentle, more tender, wishes he hadn't let the world hone him down to a hard edge until he was left with nothing but the ragged scars of a fumbling once-upon-a-time. He wishes he had someone to love him, still, someone to hold his hand into the next murky chapter because the next murky chapter is what he fears most in the world. It is his future, the wide, gaping maw of the unknown, the unknowable. It will be his destiny, his death, his return to the soil that birthed him and the darkness that comes after—and he is afraid.

He is afraid.

His body and his mind will go the way his soul has gone already, the ripe apricot softness yielding under the tearing hands of time, and he will forget, slowly, the loves and lessons earned over a lifetime of doubt. He will forget his music and the moonlight and the way her mouth opened beneath his kisses, will forget the sacred commitments he made to heaven before he knew how to fear. He will head, alone, into the darkness, into eternity, into oblivion—sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything—and he will ask only for the chance to start again. He will ask to care for the babe, to dance with the child, to comfort the lover, to carry the soldier, to believe in the king. He will ask to touch every jagged mirror shard of himself, the lonely moments and the joyous moments and every possible moment in between, and he will try to remember, with the fading sharpness of experience, that it will all be alright, in the end, it will be alright.

Even in the dark. Even if he's alone.

(A/N - hi, guys! I'm not dead! And somehow I wound up as an English major in college, so have a weird, angsty, Shakespeare-inspired drabble. I don't know what this is, I just really, really missed fan fiction and wanted to post something, so here you go. Opening poem is from As You Like It, and I borrowed a couple lines from Romeo and Juliet while I was at it. Thanks for reading, and thanks for keeping the Eternal Sonata fandom alive!)