"No Matter What the Storybooks Say."

++Warnings: Not my characters or situation, only being borrowed. Based more on the film than the book, according to my own preference. Massive spoilers lie within. As does *SLASH*

As always, dedicated to my Floria - in the arrogant, blissful belief that *we* are the one couple in this century.++

The prince deliberately didn't look at the door his bride had just passed through. Thank what powers there be the little bitch was gone, and he didn't have to keep up the pretense - foolish, as she didn't bother to pretend she couldn't see straight through it - that he was an affectionate bridegroom.

But his muscles were still knotted with tension. He had the uncanny feeling that if he should glance up into the mirror, the glass which had framed their reflections scant moments ago, he would still see her. Pretty Buttercup, looking every inch a princess in her shimmering silver bridal apparel. Sweet and naïve and utterly hateful. Taunting him with her candid distaste for him - him, her prince and ruler and fate.

He ground his fists into his eyes. Having the silly peasant girl executed was still on his to-do task, as it had been for quite a while. But it had ceased long ago to be just a mildly inconvenient step in his plans for, let him be modest now, world domination. No longer would he even consider murdering Buttercup by proxy. Tightening his fists on that delicate neck had become less a duty than an obsession. He needed to see those artless lobelia-blue eyes widen in terror and defeat, crush her childlike defiance out of her fragile body. She had survived once, when he had already been counting on finding her an exquisite corpse. This time, he needed to *know* his bride was dead.

Would she still haunt him afterwards? As her ridiculous pirate lover haunted the prince, only hours after meeting his own fate. Those stormy-sea eyes, with their quizzical cast, gazed at Humperdinck from his own peripheral vision. They bore the same expression that the princess bride's eyes showed, every time they rested on her promised husband.

Two pairs of clear, contemptuous eyes, in different shades of blue. Prince Humperdinck was growing to detest blue eyes.

Well, he had killed Westley. He had made him suffer as no man ever had, had glutted his soul on the earth-shattering scream of Westley's despair. And when Westley's love died, too, their spell would be broken. It was only Buttercup's love that made the man still seem to live. With she breathed her last, their irritatingly stubborn love would die as well.

Get through the wedding and kill the girl, Humperdinck told himself. And then everything will be back to normal. You'll have won, and their stupid, sentimental romance will return to the fairytale it is.

When their precious chance at true happiness and love is squandered by their own stupidity and weakness, then you will no longer be tormented by the chance they had. and you never will.

The door opened, and Humperdinck started wildly. But his gaze met no nightmare, no slender sweet-faced girl or blond man in ludicrously dramatic black, but his best friend. No deceptively mild blue eyes, but small, dark ones, bright with intelligence.

"You look like you were expecting a ghost," Count Rugen said, in his oddly smooth, even tones. Rugen's voice was musical and beautifully modulated, but it rarely, if ever, allowed emotion to inflect its tones. Humperdinck found the calm monotones inexpressibly reassuring after Buttercup's dramatics.

"Not a ghost," the prince said, only half lying. Westley was dead, and would not return, he had to remember that. "I was expecting my wife."

"Ah. The charming, if inane, Princess Buttercup. Soon to be a ghost herself?" Rugen let the last syllable drift upwards, only barely too respectful to directly question his prince.

"I certainly hope not, Tyron. The last thing I want is that woman on my hands indefinitely." Humperdinck tried to keep his tones light, but his voice shook slightly.

He couldn't avoid that gaze, dark and cold in that pale, expressionless face. Always seeing too much. but perhaps, not quite everything.

"Buttercup seems to be, shall we say, concerning you overly much." Rugen gracefully took a seat at the nod of permission, always the warrior and the courtier at one and the same time. Always aware that Humperdinck was not only companion, but prince and liege. "Entertaining any second thoughts about tonight?"

Humperdinck thought again of killing Buttercup, of those disturbingly limpid eyes glazing over at last, of the rose-petal skin pallid with death. "No second thoughts at all."

Rugen steepled his fingers, the six fingers on his right hand making the criss-cross of fingertips seem unnatural. But then, Humperdinck had learned long ago not to mentally dwell on those fingers, except in the privacy of the darkness. "Then, why the uncharacteristic nerves? Surely the discomfort tonight is causing you is not out of sentiment." Humperdinck made a dismissive gesture. "Not sentiment, then." Heapused, delicately. "Jealousy? Buttercup is still irritatingly devoted to our deceased friend. And she is, her intellect aside, rather attractive in both appearance and personality."

"I assure you, my taste does not yet run to mentally challenged peasant girls." Humperdinck forced a laugh. For one insane moment, he had actually considered telling Rugen in which directions his taste did run.

The worst of the situation was, he could not imagine Rugen showing any disgust or, indeed, refusing his attentions. Whatever his feelings, and Humperdinck was not sure Rugen knew any pleasures beyond the straightforward, asexual sadism of the torture chamber, he would do as his prince wished. Humperdinck imagined the count making love in the same efficient, civilised manner he did everything else.

The thought was horror.

"Maybe I am jealous," he admitted slowly, astonished to heat the words coming from his mouth. "Not one couple in this century." He thought of the expression on Buttercup's face as she spoke of her faith in Westley, off the fierce tenderness in the pirate's expression as he tried to defend his love against insurmountable odds. Humperdinck thought of all he would never have, for all his ancient blood and power, and which these two had through - what? No right of blood, no act of their own, for Buttercup's heart had always been disturbingly. elsewhere. long before the dramatic rescue. Westley and Buttercup were loved for simply being. themselves.

Humperdinck had recognised the desolation in the pirate's dying howl.

"Love, I find, is overrated," Rugen said in his beautiful, flat voice. "Do not let it trouble you."

"It will all be over tonight anyway," Humperdinck said, finding his brisk manner again somehow. He rose and Rugen, ever polite, rose as well. "After you, my friend," Humperdinck insisted.

He allowed himself one brief, hungry look at Rugen's back, let the name 'Tyron' form for just one wistful moment on his lips, pretending to himself he was calling him back, that he would clasp him in his arms and kiss him, that he would be kissed back. Pretended that for a moment at least he shared Buttercup's belief that storybooks could be made real. A regrettable, childish, sentimental fantasy, but then, sometimes sanity required these occasional. emotional indulgences.

Then the prince composed himself. He straightened his silver crown, adjusted his cuffs, and went to his own wedding.

It was not his fault if he cast one last glance over his shoulder as he left the room. Looking for ghosts.

1 ++END++