A/N: An unpretentious, speculative one-shot.
Disclaimer: Don't own it, never will.
Moanna had returned, and he with her, back to the home of ancient souls. Here in the world beneath, where the withered Faun stood silently among the immortals in their lofty palaces of gold and red and green, back to watch over his Princess and grow young again.
She granted her father affection, her Faun curiosity. She returned to her play and her studies, choosing only the things she wished to learn, dismissing the rest into oblivion like the child she was. Her mind was quick and grew steadily, impatient to overtake her soul…her old soul that she did not - could not - know was waiting for her.
It would be a long time before she found it and held it. It had been there, barely visible, when she stepped into a labyrinth to follow a fairy. She had seen it when the pale one chased her through the long stone coffin of his lair. It had flamed brightly when she accepted death in her brother's place. And now it was hidden where she could not find it.
Already, she was forgetting them all. The mortals slid from her memory like smoke, and everything of pain and joy from the world above settled into the bottom of her chest like a heavy cloud of ashes.
And she forgot this, too.
One day, she held a doll close to her and looked into its eyes. "Faun, I am old, am I not?" Her voice was raw, flushed with her own magic and drunk on the joy of possibility.
The Faun felt something else beneath her statement. He reached out and grasped her thoughts with his seeping, sifting intelligence. He placed his mind flush against her immortal heart, listening to the beats, counting them and measuring their worth.
Already they were familiar. They had been familiar thousands of years before this.
But still, he listened, and he heard it anew…a fluttering steady pulse against her ribs…a bridled river creeping through the dust. Her love.
He drew back his mind and watched her. In earnest, the child sat with the doll in her hand, and her eyes were dark. He said aloud. "You will not be old for many years, My Princess."
You are old already.
As she had been eons ago, before she was a child. As she would be eons from now, after she was a child once more. Restlessness was already evident in the lines of her face, and it was only a matter of waiting…for centuries, for millennia. It hardly mattered. She would slip back into the blazing mortal world. Into time.
Now, at this moment of beginning, she fought it, a broiling battle in her little heart. She was born to war and never grew.
She spoke again. "Can fauns love, Faun?" Her lips were cold and pink, her skin the color of light honey.
The Faun's face twisted like old wood into a wild, cruel smile. But not a harsh one. Cruel, but never harsh with her. "Fauns cannot love, Princess." Always gentle cruelty.
"Why not?" So innocent. She held no pity for him, only curiosity.
"You, yourself, do not love, My Princess." Not in the way that you think you do. Cruelty, cruelty.
The air hummed with it.
But she grasped what he said and turned it over gently in her heart, testing it. And she put it on herself like a new cloak, this observation of his. And she grew older still. The Faun stood, her unmovable sentinel guarding her child's play.
Soon they would be separate once more, and he would be the Watcher in the frozen lands. But now, only the gentle cruelty of her Guardian, and a cloak of cold curiosity that would carry her up into the land of men. Death again.
The Faun waited.
She stood tall and proud, grown to womanhood, and gave him a furtive, sorrowful kiss…and he knew that she was leaving.
He stayed near her after that, and, as was his task, guided her away from the gates into the land of men. Away from enchantments. Away from strange princes. Away from any that would aid her and in so doing harm her.
She cursed his cruelty, and he saw her cold cloak billow around her heart, and frame her face in its desperate shadows.
Her patience was great for one so young, and she waited years before evading him and running up the steps into darkness.
Her patience was rewarded with her destruction.
It was finished, for a moment, for a breath. But her soul was there, and the Watcher would find it.
High in a marble chamber, the king her father showed him the future. Like a spirit from the high places, the Faun looked down across the mortal lands. The sky was drained of its bright blue nectar, and the earth shuddered as the thunder of war machines ripped across it and tore its mountains down. The black soot of uncountable fires filled the winds. Unnatural lightning floated above the great cities of man…cities that would someday be built, but were not yet. Cities that had been cities, for they were crumbled to ashen shells.
"There," said the king, "will she be." So the Faun ascended once again to the cold earth, and the fairies settled in the crook of his arms, and they waited for her.
The earth shivered. Faint screams reached him, but never roused him. In his mind he saw her as she was and would be and must be. He saw her cold cloak that he had planted and her loving heart buried beneath it.
War would come and she would be born, an innocent, warm as ever a mortal could be.…
He awoke to their broken voices around him. They passed by in shuffling procession through the damp tunnels into the belly of the earth. In his chamber, he waited, and when they were gone, he broke down the ancient walls surrounding him and followed them. The beams from their lights sifted the air like fairy dust.
She was here. Alive.
He found her, alone, too weak to stay with the others. A twisted child, born of the smoke from mortal destruction. Born of war.
Tumors marred her honey skin. Her head was bald. Her voice was gone, reduced to a rasp. The eyes were still dark. The soul was the same. Old and innocent. Eternal.
Who are you? She forced the words through her rasped throat.
I am a Faun. He knelt down beside her and placed a fibrous palm on her fevered forehead. And you are a Princess.
Yes. And your father misses you.