Hitomi hadn't noticed the patch of wet stone during her morning walk. She hadn't noted the set of stairs that dipped-dangerous and steep-within a clumsy trip's distance.
This had been her daily routine for close to seven months now, though Van normally accompanied her. He had promised to go with her after dinner, but she had needed to get out of the stuffy rooms and out onto the walkways that surrounded the castle.
And all she could think of as she fell-over the steady 'No, no, no…' of her heart-was how stupid she had been for not listening to him.
The darkness swiped at her as the sound of yelling and crashing feet could be heard-the inkiness holding her, protecting her-a cradle of blissful ignorance taking hold as the muscles of her lower stomach wretched in a way that made her scream out.
She spent a week in bed curled on her side and refusing to eat or drink anything more than absolutely demanded.
A very dark part of her mind-the part removed enough from her heart to ignore the 'No, no, no…' -thought the situation funny. The girl credited with saving an entire planet with her love, brought to a crying mess from a simple spring-morning fall.
Their friends had come, each worried and caring, and sat beside her. Though Millerna and Dryden stayed away, keeping their daughter quite and as far from the royal wing as possible during the day. She could still hear the little girl's shrill giggles during the night, and the quite murmur of Millerna's voice singing a lullaby.
It was his silence that hurt the most, though.
Van, her husband, her only true family on the planet of Gaia, had turned from the warm laughter of summer to the deafening silence of winter. His eyes, once a rich laughing burgundy, had turned to the color of the dead leaves.
Hitomi reigned herself to the idea that she had done this, had betrayed and ruined him.
She never noticed how he curled around her in the night-protecting, guarding, and praying to any and all Gods for her return-a secret cradle and watch dog.
Both mourning the loss of their little girl.
A year later, and they had shuttered away all remembrance. A small grave site placed in line with others, lost royal children. They visit her once a week, separately.
The nursery, the one Van had had remade during the rebuilding of the castle, was locked from the inside. He hid away the key in one of the studies, amongst other small reminders that they had collected during the seven months.
She could remember some of the small things: lists of names and dates, the letter she had written to Van out of pure cowardice of telling the development face-to-face but had ended up not using and showing to him later, a stack of books Van had found that had been saved from the fires, a doll given to them by Ruhm.
Sometimes words would remind her of names and plans. What had once sent her sobbing only made her cringe and look away.
The steady 'No, no, no…' of her heart had quieted to a dull 'Time, time, time…' as she watch the seasons change as she grew accustomed to the ache.
The doctors had stated it was unlikely to ever happen, but Hitomi found herself wondering if Van would trust her with another child after such a stupid mistake.
When she asked, the answer had almost terrified her. Van had never been one for tears, and seeing his dead-rust eyes haze over to an almost-burgundy made her choke.
He said he had missed her, and Hitomi wondered where she had gone to make him say such a thing.
They lay in bed a while later; sweaty, tired and satisfied. His arms wrapped around her lower belly with her hand under his, and he talked of how all of it was his fault, his stupidity, his mistake and neglect of her.
And she found herself crying-that dark part of her mind laughing again over the quiet 'Oh, oh, oh...' of her heart-but this time there was closure and she murmured back to him what her whole being was screaming for her to bite out.
He kissed her brow, giving a quiet rumble that brought out her first true smile in what seemed-to both-like ages. They fell asleep like that; protecting, guarding, forming the cradle bashed by mistakes and misunderstandings, ready to be rebuilt.
Two years later, and Van wakes up to Hitomi humming a lullaby, her hands curled over his own larger one as it grips her hip. She doesn't need to ask him to open up the nursery this time.
Within the week, everything is in its place, and they know that nothing will happen to the babe if it was within their control. The doctors are not so optimistic, and tell them to expect another gravesite to be made within the first trimester.
They use the names on the scraps of paper, deciphering through the scribbles and circles that wove over creased and folded parchment. The books and toys are brought out, and Van sometimes catches Hitomi sitting in the ready-made nursery, holding their daughter's doll.
He had asked his wife why, once, and she had been silent.
One day, she caught him doing the same thing, and he understood. The ache wasn't really gone, only muffled to the point where it was a thrumming reminder in the back of their skulls.
Hitomi is barely conscious when Van laughs, the baby kicking his hand in the middle of the night-the babe's beat going along with the, 'Yes, yes, yes...' beat of her heart. It's a boy-they can tell from his stubborn pounding that seems so much like his father's nature.
There isn't a sound as they hold onto each other, their scattered pieces sewn together to form something better-stronger, more knowing-a cradle.