Animula vagula blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis
Qua nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos...

(Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus)

"Ah… I can't really remember for how long she slept exactly, but I sure hope you are going to wake up earlier than Sleeping Beauty."

Hands resting on his hips, Battler grinned and looked down at his own slumbering princess. He did not expect an answer from Beatrice at this point, but he still wanted it more than anything else, and because of this, Battler kept talking to her, asking her questions, begging her to go back to her former self.

"I knew you were the lazy and spoiled type," he began again, crouching before her, "but this is too much, even for you: aren't you a great witch? Playing the role of the helpless princess doesn't suit you at all…!"

Beatrice's gaze seemed to be fixed on the golden roses, sparkling dully in the distance like her own eyes. Battler didn't know if she could actually see them in the same way he didn't know what had disappeared from her irises – what made them so lively before. Pride? A twisted sense of joy?

… Hope?

The same Beato who had mercilessly cornered him so many times had begged him to end her life. It made almost no sense to him, but Battler had promised nonetheless: that he would make her wish come true, that he would understand her.

He wanted to tell her: open your eyes and tell me just who are you, and what in the world is it that you want. But it would have felt too much like breaking that promise, so he smiled again and, taking one of her hand into his, said:

"Ihihi, don't tell me you're just trying to look cute because you hope that a handsome prince will marry you or something…! A perverted old hag like you can only be a witch!" – a pause – "Hey, aren't you going to tell the ass-neechans to play with me until I turn into mincemeat? I'm sure this time I'd manage to cop a feel before they rip my arms off!" Out of habit, he waited for a glare, then insults, then pain, but Beatrice didn't move, and the silence around them was deafening.

Battler's expression fell.

The hand between his was unpleasantly cool, and yet it still retained the warmth of life. She was breathing slowly, so frail and pretty, like a timid rabbit held by a clumsy child. The hand of this most powerful witch was delicate – it was the hand of someone who has never had to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea in her whole life; so small compared to his. So pale.

Her white, white skin had seemed to glow before; now it only made Beato look even easier to break: it was translucent like rice paper, and Battler could see the bluish web of her veins gracefully spreading and meeting again underneath it, like ribbons frozen in midair.

Her wrists were so thin he could easily spot the shape and consistency of bones beneath the skin, but her fingers were fuller – still long, yes, but not too much, and definitely not bony. The fingernails were oval and well proportioned, glistening like small seashells. Battler tried to picture a simpler, cheaper ring replacing the Ushiromiya head's. Something colorful and cute, something that a normal girl would wear.

And then these became the hands of a young woman who acts like a spoiled brat and that he met one morning, on his way to school. Those were the hands that smacked him playfully when they spent time together and he said something stupid; the hands that he'd hold when she was pouting and he didn't feel like teasing her for it.

In another world, in another life, these wouldn't have been the hands of the person Battler had promised to kill.

Such small hands. White hands. Pretty hands. Hated hands. (Almost) beloved hands. Holding them tightly he asked – with a weak, weak smile that was almost a bitter grimace:

"Do you want me to wake you up, Beato?" He got closer to her.

This is so stupid and so pathetic, he thought, please, don't make fun of me for this, when you decide to come back.

Her cheeks were so soft, round and full like peaches, Battler had never touched them before. Not like this, not with this very intention.

"If you want to hit me, you should do it now," he murmured and their noses were touching. "I'm not going to stop—I, I warned you, okay…!"

His heart was beating too fast and it took Battler several seconds to notice that he was shaking. This wouldn't have been his first time kissing a girl, and it wasn't like him to be so nervous—but he was, so much that he ended up kissing the corner of her mouth (he could hear Beatrice calling him an inexperienced virgin, cackling, making fun of him for 'finally getting interested').

He closed his eyes and tried again – it was so fast that their noses bumped together and it hurt a bit. Battler opened his eyes only to find that Beatrice's were still empty, staring at something that he couldn't see or know. His heart sank. But his fingers only pressed with more strength into her flesh, his lips parted—he wanted to know more, to see more of her. He liked her taste and traced the shape of her mouth with his tongue—then he scooted back almost at once.

"Hey, aren't you going to laugh at me…?"

Battler was already regretting that kiss.

"Where are you now? What are you thinking? It's not fair to leave your opponent behind like this…!"

Touching Sleeping Beauty's lips with his own had been like opening Pandora's box and letting even the hope that rested at its bottom fly away. What else could he do now to wake this capricious princess up?

"Ah, you idiot… In the fairy tale it didn't go like this, you know…" he muttered and squeezed her hand.

Unless this pathetic prince managed to bring about a miracle, Sleeping Beauty wouldn't open her eyes again.