Crickets sounded from outside, their noise filtering in through the open window. There was a breeze, the slight bite of rain as it drizzled quietly. They couldn't have asked for a better night. Hattie turned over, reaching blindly for the bottle of wine they had shared, sitting up on her elbows to down the remaining drops. It was so bitter, so delicious and reminding her of the life she would have to go back to before the night was over.
"It's the perfect night."
Her voice was barely a whisper, and Hattie had to strain her hearing to catch it. She smiled when she did, though she knew the remark had nothing to do with her. Ella was only complimenting the weather; the crickets, the grass…the birds, even. Never Hattie. For whatever reason, this made her frown.
"It is. Though the rain is making the trip home less and less appealing by the minute." It was true, but the trip "home" was never appealing.
"You never like going home." Ella sat up, crossing her bare legs. Hattie always loathed how she chose to dress. It was either too much, or too little. There was never a balance.
"That's not true. It's just a long walk, in the dark no less." Ella should have remembered Hattie's distaste for the dark. Hadn't she remembered lighting candles for her every night before bed? Or was that just another memory that Ella had tossed aside?
Ella snorted, standing up and crossing the room to look out the window.
"Part of me misses the manor."
Hattie humph'd, playing idly with the wine bottle, fighting the impulse to smash it on the floor and roll around in the pieces, eager to feel glass shred her skin. Eager to just feel something.
"Why would you miss it, Ella-dear? You always said you hated it."
Ella crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, letting her eyes close.
"It was a pretty house. Nice to live in, once the curse was broken."
…and once you left.
Hattie finished Ella's statement, looking down at the floor and nodding her head. What was this? These nights they shared, laying on a blanket on a cold, hardwood floor, sharing a bottle of wine and talking about all the bad things. What did it mean? Did it even mean anything? Hattie wondered if she was just a blank slate for Ella to burden her problems on.
"Any luck with having children yet?" Ella question was like a slap in the face. Why would she choose to mention this now? Hadn't Hattie been adamant enough about her distaste for discussing it?
"None at all."
…I'm good for nothing. He's going to leave. I don't know what I'll do.
The words stuck to her tongue, begging to be free, but she kept them in. Ella mustn't see any more of what was inside her. Hattie drew her knees up to her chest, curling up into a ball like a small child. She remembered being so much younger, and curling up on her mother's bed. She would stay there, waiting for her father or mother to come in and find her and hold her.
She knew better than to expect such comfort from Ella.
"I expected you to be happier."
Hattie looked up, brushing blonde curls from her face. Hattie had expected to be happier, too.
"I'm sorry I didn't meet your expectations."
Ella scoffed, shaking her head and letting her body slide down the wall.
Perhaps they were merely two little broken dolls, forcing themselves to play together as a means of comfort. That was just about the only thing that would make sense. There was no way Ella could ever actually like her. After all, she took her Prince away, used her as a servant…redemption was too far off.
Hattie had made her way into the bathroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror while Ella was busy curled up in the living room, that fucking fairytale book in her hands. Fairytales. What ridiculous fancy. Hattie wanted to punch the mirror; she looked nothing like what she a queen would look. Her hair was a tangled mess of curls, dark circles lined her eyes and she was paler than she had ever been. She wondered, fleetingly, if she were sick. She touched her face, treating it as if it were glass. She watched the way her mouth formed a frown when she reminded herself that it's almost time to leave. Almost time to go back to the husband who didn't love her, to the cold bed where she would spend all nigh staring at his form, wondering where it all went wrong.
"Hattie?" Ella called, and Hattie watched as her face lit up. She tried to will the light to fade, to will herself to frown again. But she couldn't. She stood there, grinning like an idiot at her reflection.
"Yes?" Her voice betrayed her, coming out as an excited little squeak that wasn't at all suitable for a woman her age.
"Do you plan on coming out of there any time soon?"
Hattie giggled, watching herself and laughing even harder as her expression twisted and contorted.
"…Hattie?" She heard Ella's footsteps, and quickly composed herself, leaning against the sink and crossing her arms and staring blankly down at the floor.
Ella stood in the doorway, and Hattie didn't look up.
"I'm sorry. I just…thought of something funny. A joke, a duke told one at a cotillion last night."
"And who tied your corset for this cotillion?"
Hattie found herself looking through Ella's books, smiling to herself at the quill ink underlining certain paragraphs and phrases. Ella had always studied everything. She always remembered things.
Hattie slammed the book shut.
"Don't hurt my books." Ella scolded, not bothering to look up from the goddamn fairytale book.
"You always read that one."
"Mandy gave it to me."
Hattie scoffed, "It didn't sound interesting when I read it."
"That's why you never shared my interests. I shared yours, dear." Venom dripped from the term of endearment, making Hattie flinch and curl up again. She wanted to sink into the floor, and never resurface. She didn't really think Ella would have minded.
"We were only children then." Hattie glanced at Ella, wanting so badly to smile at how she had grown up. She was taller, willowy, like a fairy. She was beautiful like a fairy.
It hurt to look at her, because she was so close, yet so far away.
Just like a fairy.
"I don't want to go home." Hattie mumbled, playing with the lace on her corset.
"Too bad. You're the queen, you have responsibilities."
Hattie whined, "Charmont talks about you all the time."
Ella laughed-a bitter little chuckle that made Hattie want to cry.
"If he talks about me so much, then why aren't we married?"
"He says he can't trust you. You lied, and he says…"
Ella put up a hand, eyes closed, pain etched across her face.
Hattie didn't want her to feel pain because of him.
"I don't want to talk about him. He's not what I thought he was. And besides, he's yours now."
He's not mine, Hattie wanted to say. Because he wasn't. He was so far gone in his own mind, that there was no way he would ever be hers. He would always be Ella's.
"Being queen isn't what I thought it would be." Hattie found herself blurting out, her voice a hurried mesh of syllables. "I feel like a small child in a candy store. It all looked delicious and promising. And then, I sampled it. I tasted it. It made me sick. It makes me sick, Ella, I don't want it anymore."
Hattie's arms wrapped around her knees again, and she let herself fall over.
"I'm a useless queen. I'm a useless wife. I'll never be a mother, I'll never give Charmont an heir. I can't. I feel sick all the time. I just want to vomit and stay in bed. But I can't do that. I can't and it makes me cry."
Hattie had never spoken in such a way. Among her sarcasm and curtness, the dear's and the darling's, she felt like a child here. Crying over the life she had strived for all her life. She was fucked right up, and Ella was only a witness, not a helping hand.
Ella stared, mouth opening and closing in shock. Never, during any of their nights of venting and binge drinking, had she seen Hattie cry. Yet there she was, a broken heap on the floor.
"I feel sick." Hattie moaned, sniffling and groaning.
Ella didn't know what was possessing her to close the distance between them. She dropped to her knees, and pulled Hattie into her arms. A gasp sounded in her ear-terrified, confused-and Ella patted her hair. She ran her fingers through blonde curls she had fantasized so many nights about yanking and pulling out of rage. But they weren't children anymore. They weren't in finishing school, they weren't stepsisters, they weren't anything. They were two adults who connected. Two pieces from different puzzles that were lucky enough to fit together.
That's what it all meant.
Ella forced Hattie to face her. She wiped tears from her eyes, trying her best to smile, to put on a brave face for the girl she used to hate.
"Why are you holding me?" Hattie blinked, but Ella quieted all questions, with a soft kiss upon Hattie's lips.
The king's kisses had never felt like this.
Hattie closed her eyes, relaxing and inhaling a sharp breath. Ella's lips were soft, gentle, all the things Charmont's weren't. He was fast and unforgiving, taking her and spilling into her for the sole purpose of having a child. Hattie wasn't sure she even knew what pleasure felt like.
Ella forced Hattie down onto the floor, breaking away from her lips and staring down at her.
"Never mention him again." Ella's voice trembled, and with that, she gripped Hattie's hips and pressed her own against hers. Hattie shuddered, tears falling freely down her face as Ella kissed her, lips moving urgently, as if this would be their last night together. Hattie wondered briefly if this would be the last time they would spend hours after hour together. The thought made Hattie sob; an empty sound that Ella swallowed eagerly.
Ella reaching behind Hattie, ripping the ties of her corset and forcing it aside. Flawless pale skin was before her now, and she smiled at Hattie.
"You're beautiful." She had never thought so before. She had never bothered to see Hattie as anything but a controlling monster. And now, she saw a human. Something that breathed. That had feelings, that bled when broken.
Hattie smiled shakily, legs spreading on instinct. But there wasn't pain, like when she spread them for Charmont. There wasn't hot, hard penetration. There was the gentle touch of fingers, brushing against wet folds and coaxing a gasp from her lips. Was this what pleasure felt like…?
"Ella…" the name dripped off her lips like honey. It felt so right.
"I won't hurt you." Ella promised, fingers slipping inside. Hattie hissed, hips bucking, nails digging into Ella's back. Teeth were at her neck suddenly, and Hattie felt like she was burning from the inside. Her skin felt like peeling, peeling beneath Ella's teeth as they sank into her neck, aching to leave a mark that Charmont would see.
"I want you to go back home," Ella breathed against her neck, fingers knuckle-deep inside Hattie, twisting and curling in ways Hattie never thought possible, "and you will wear the mark I give you with pride." Her teeth sank in again, blood begging to ooze from the skin.
Ella stretched her fingers, curled them, felt Hattie's nails drag down her back without mercy. Fire. That's all she could feel. There was a fire inside, and nothing could douse it. She felt like an animal, a wolf marking its territory. Hattie was her territory. She had become such the second she walked in her front door. She wasn't Char's. Char was no one's.
"Oh, Ella…" Hattie moaned, loud and high-pitched as she arched into Ella, nails drawing blood as she felt as if she were going to combust. She gasped, calling out to whatever god was up in the sky. Stars flashed before her eyes, tears brimming the edges as Ella's teeth bit down so hard she nearly passed out from the shock…
She was still. Panting. Gasping. Clinging to Ella.
"Go home. And show him your mark."