A/N: Okay warning: this is sad. It is not fluffy or Valentine's Day cuteness. It is sad. I'm just so happening to upload it the day before Valentine's Day.
Disclaimer: Characters, dialogue, and even a good amount of the plot belong to Ms. Julie Kagawa. So don't sue me. :D
I trudged wearily into bed, exhausted from a hours-long meeting with my advisors, and collapsed fully clothed onto the soft mattress. Sleep claimed me before my head hit the pillow.
When I opened my eyes, I was aware I was in a dream. I was standing at a small green watered pond, some bread in my hand and ducks swarming around me, pulling on my jeans and ponytail. With nothing else better to do, I began ripping off pieces of the bread and throwing it to the ducks, watching them swarm over it before ripping and tossing another piece.
Sometime later, just as I was beginning to wonder how my dreams happened to be so boring, I felt eyes on my back, a presence besides my own.
I turned around, and when I saw who was there my eyes widened as a smile crept over my face. Abandoning the bread, I reached for him. "Ash? What are you doing here?"
He smiled back and my heart ached for him - the feel of his body against mine, his voice, his very presence - until he finally took my offered hand and pulled me close. "I don't know." he said as my arms slipped around his waist. "I think… this is a dream. Though I'd be happy if I never woke up."
That didn't make sense. I pulled back, cocking my head at him. "Strange. I thought this was my dream."
"Maybe it is." he said distractedly as I traced circles on his back. "Maybe I'm not really here, and this will all disappear when you wake up, including me." I held him tighter, as if that could somehow prevent him from leaving, and felt him smile from somewhere above me. "I wouldn't care either way."
He bent to kiss me, and as the need for him became to much for me to hold back, I slipped my hand under his shirt. From there, all I heard or saw or thought of or felt was him.
Afterward, we lay at the edge of the pond, my back against a tree and his head in my lap. He dozed as I ran my hands through his soft hair. It would have been perfectly thoughtless, but something was bothering me. "Ash?"
I didn't really want to bring it up, wanted to stay inside this wonderful dream-world, but I couldn't keep my curiosity under control. "Where have you been all these months? I mean…" I hesitated for a moment, playing with his hair instead of talking. But I couldn't keep quiet. "I know you can't come into the Iron Realm, but no one has seen any sign of you, anywhere. Or Puck, for that matter. What have you two been doing?"
"I was… looking for something, I think." I inwardly frowned. It hadn't been an exact, real answer, but I guess something was better than nothing. Maybe he sensed my frustration, because he reached up and grabbed my hand, bringing it to his lips, making me smile again. "I can't remember now."
I freed my fingers and stroked the smooth, pale skin of his cheek as he closed his silver eyes again. "You don't think it could be important?" I asked.
"Maybe." he answered vaguely, and I resisted the urge to take him by the shoulders and force some real answers out of him. I tapped his forehead lightly instead. "You do realize that one of us has to wake up, don't you?" I asked. He grunted, not opening his eyes. "I don't know if I'm a figment of your imagination or you're a figment of mine, but eventually this is going to fade away."
He moved suddenly, rolling to his knees and leaning in close, making my breath catch. "You can go if you have to," he said, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear. "I'm not leaving. I'll still be here when you come back."
"No, Ash." A new voice, neither mine nor his, came, ruining the peace that had formerly accompanied us here. "You cannot stay."
Both Ash and I jerked away from each other and stood, whirling to face the intruder to a dream that should have been only ours. A woman - a faery - stood a few yards away. Despite the mist hiding her, and the grim expression she wore, it was obvious she was very fair, with silver hair and turquoise eyes.
"You are very difficult to find, Ash." She said in a tired voice, and her appearance began to ring long forgotten bells of memory, "I almost gave up when I couldn't find you in a nightmare. I didn't think to look for you in the dreams of another, but it makes sense you should come here." I couldn't figure out who exactly she was, even with the memories ringing in my head.
"What do you want here?" I rose, adopting the persona of the Iron Queen I had been these past few months. I stepped subtly in front of Ash, shielding him as he had done to me so often before. I felt his surprise at the gesture and thought to him You've protected me so much, Ash. Let me do the same for you for once. "Who are you?" I asked the faery woman.
"You know me, Meghan Chase." The faery stepped forward, the mist parting so we could see her clearly. "I am the one who was left behind, the one Ash knew before you ever came into the picture."
I didn't move, but finally with her words, the memory I needed surfaced: a memory of Ash and I sitting in the Iron Realm and him telling me a story of his lost love. "Ariella." I breathed. I couldn't believe it. How could this be? I glanced back at Ash, needing answers and needing them now. "Is this another dream, Ash? Did you bring her hear?" Would you prefer her to be here, instead of me? I thought.
"No." Ariella said before Ash could reply. "I am not a dream. Not a memory. I am as real as you are, Iron Queen. Death could not quite hold me, all those years ago."
"Enough." Ash rasped behind us, and both of us turned to stare at him. What was this faery claming to be Ariella playing at? Had something happened? Had he… had he and her…
"Ari." Ash said, facing her and turning his back on me - I didn't miss the gesture. "What are you doing here? What do you want?"
Ariella narrowed her eyes. "I'm here to bring you out of this dream." she said, glancing over at me as I glared back at her. "You body is very sick, Ash, and the curse the hobyah shaman laid on you was keeping you trapped in sleep. I don't know how you found your way here, but it is time for you to return to us."
To us. Ariella's words echoed in my head as I stared into Ash's back. "You're… with her now?" I asked, making my voice emotionless, trying to keep it from trembling with hurt, in case he denied it. "How… how long have you known she was alive?"
"Not long." Ariella spoke instead of Ash. "We haven't had much time together yet." … and I felt my heart break.
"Ari!" Ash turned to glare at her, but it didn't change anything in my eyes. It was clear enough what was going on here.
"I see." I said, it becoming harder to keep my voice steady as tears threatened. I began to pull away from the dream before I could full out sob. "Then… I'll leave you two alone."
"That is not necessary, Iron Queen." Ariella addressed me, shaking her head. On the contrary, I believe it is. I thought. "There is no need. I came here to bring Ash out of his nightmares, but this is your dream, not his. When you wake, the dream will fade, and he will return to us. I'm sorry to have intruded here." She gave both of us a small nod and disappeared into the mist, leaving me alone with the one person I thought would always be there for me. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, knowing I wouldn't be able to look at his face as I asked him this. "Was that really her? Ariella? Is she really alive?" I felt his hand suddenly in mine and opened my eyes, blinking in surprise. "It's not what you think." he said, a little desperately. "Please, hear me out."
I was… I was… angry and sad and maybe a little bit relieved all at the same time. I was angry at Ariella for being alive and stealing him from me, angry and sad at him for choosing to be with her, for throwing away our relationship as if it meant nothing. But I was also a little relieved, because now I didn't feel so guilty about exiling him from the Iron Realm. So instead of blowing up at him, I gave a sad smile. "No, Ash." I whispered, knowing that if I went any louder than that, my voice would tremble and crack. "Maybe… maybe this is for the best."
"I'm the Iron Queen." I said firmly to mask the pain lurking underneath. "No matter what I want, that will never change. And you're still part of the Winter Court. Even if you could come into the Iron Realm, you would die. We can't be together, and there's no use wishing for the impossible. It's selfish of me to keep hoping." My voice shook on the last sentence as I thought that, in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have added that. I took a deep breath to steady myself and continued, looking up at him to commit his face to memory. "Perhaps… it's time to move on, to find happiness with someone else." Every word I said was true.
…now if only I could convince my heart of that.
He looked like he wanted to say something, but I moved on before he could, not wanting to extend this any longer. A clean break is better than a long, drawn out, messy one, right? "You have a chance to be happy now." I continued, even as I felt the tears begin to overflow. "Ash, this is Ariella, the love you've been missing for decades. If she's really back, then fate has given you both another chance and I… I'm not going to stand in your way." A tear spilled over, finally, despite my attempts to stop it. "What we had was a dream, and it was beautiful, but it was just a dream. It's time for us to wake up."
He took a deep breath, surely to argue, but I laid a finger against his lips. If he said something, anything, I knew I would break down, give in to him, not do what was right for both of us. "Close your eyes." I whispered. It took a second and a little push of glamour from me, but he grudgingly did. I brushed my lips to his, needing to kiss him one last time before letting him go forever. "Goodbye, Ash." I whispered, my heart breaking with every word. "Be happy."
When I woke up a moment later, I was already weeping, though it took a second for me to remember why. But when what had happened caught up with me, I found no pleasure in knowing it.
That's it, then. I thought. Ash and I are done. Over. Finished. Stop thinking about him Meghan, because there is almost no chance you will ever see him again. And if you do, it will be with another girl on his arm.
My sobs grew worse, soon wracking my body, making me unable to feel or think of anything besides the hole in my heart. Someone knocked on the door, voices calling me Your Majesty and Your Royal Highness asking if I was all right. I didn't answer them. I couldn't answer them. I let the sadness take me away.
Sometime later, after the tears finally stopped, I looked up to find it was already late in the afternoon. I was surely needed by now, to carry out my duties as the Iron Queen. But I wouldn't be able to face leading a kingdom in this state of sadness and grief.
Taking a deep breath, I envisioned taking my heart - what was left of it, anyway - and turning it into iron - unbreakable, untouchable.
I would never love. Never again.
A/N: Yeah, I know, sad. But I had to do it. It was annoying me that we didn't understand the pain Meghan herself was going through, having to let Ash go a second time. Queen of Air and Darkness
For all you fluff lovers out there, just thought I would bring to your attention that Julie Kagawa said that she would be posting a MeghanXAsh short story for Valentines day full of fluff. She posting it on her blog, at . on February 14th, so be sure to check it out!
Queen of Air and Darkness