The Nightingale and the Rose

© 2000 by Sofía 'Toffee' Francisco

This page was last modified: 2000/06/14


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Author's Note:

This fic takes place in my Unbroken universe... this time heed the warnings, it does matter!


"...Be happy; you shall have your red rose.
I will build it out of music by moonlight
and stain it with my own heart's blood."

-Oscar Wilde-

"New, he said. Unique! Something that was solely mine and thoroughly deadly." Nicklas shook his head in angry bewilderment and sighed. Then, conscious of the singing that had not been interrupted by his complaint, he looked up, blue eyes wide. "I will die, Annika."

The young girl fell silent after hearing this, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully, already missing the sound of her soft singing inside the small shack. "Nonsense. All you need is to find a power he cannot compare to. You are young, and he is old, he may have experience but you have inventive!"

Nicklas gave her a small wan smile, forgetting for a moment his situation, but then reality hit him once more, erasing all ease from his features. "He is your brother... and yet you have never seem to back him up."

This brought a shameful blush to the girl's round ivory cheeks. She closed her eyes then, and nodded, leaning back against the cold glass of the only window in the room. "He has changed... he used to speak of noble deeds and honour, yet now he is tired and he has given up."

Nicklas tilted his head to one side, confused by her words. He could never guess Annika's thoughts, she was too unpredictable and guarded for that. But he did sense a note of resentment in her mellow voice, and a clear edge of anger that accented the perfectly controlled pitch. "Given up? He seems quite eager to kill me for incompetence and move on."

Annika frowned, her eyes glazing over as she stared into the small fire at the other side of the room, where Nicklas sat cross-legged. "Perhaps... but you must understand, I have vague memories, because I was so young when he became a saint... but I do remember his aura." Annika had never made any effort to hide the fact that she had a natural talent for cosmo, and that she had not intention of becoming a saint. "It was pure and beautiful, or so I thought. He lived for his Goddess and waited eagerly. But as it turned out he was just another of the many saints who do not live long enough to see Her, or fight for Her cause. And when he saw this he became bitter and gave up on the things he had held so high in respect. My brother lives for a war he will not see."

Nicklas bowed his head and stared at the wall in front of him. "Still, he has taught me all he knew. What he inherited from his teacher, and what he created in order to survive the same test he puts on me now. How can I beat him at that? To win I have to come up with a new technique, but where to start!?" He slumped down on the bundle of furs that served as his bed and covered his face with his arm.

Annika's clear grey eyes wandered to the small table in the far corner, where a small white rose grew in a pot, oblivious to the cold weather of the Swedish countryside. She gazed at it silently; so quiet was she that Nicklas feared her gone and sat up again, relieved to find her there still.

The moon came out from behind the thick winter clouds, casting a beam of icy light through the window, striking Annika's back, throwing a shiny halo on her pale blond hair. She would have looked like a statue of ice were it not for the soft golden glow the fire brought to her skin. Nicklas stared at her in awe, as he always was whenever they were alone and he realised how truly beautiful she was.

"Think of your reason for winning." She urged him, her sweet melodious voice momentarily filling the room. "To survive." Nicklas shook his head again. "I can think of nothing else." Annika frowned, pale eyebrows drawn together, delicate even in her anger. "To survive? That is all? What of honour, duty... or even love?"

"Duty to a Goddess I can hardly believe in? It is clear that our powers are no gift from her, for if that was so then I would have none, having no faith in her. What honour can there be in defending something you don't believe in?" Nicklas lashed back, his fine featured face becoming a mask of anger.

"And love?" Annika had gone back to staring at the white rose, hands clasped on her skirt.

"Even worse... to love someone, or to be loved, and not be able to promise you will be there in the morning." Nicklas shook bit his lip. "That would be even worse."

"So you fight and live, for yourself..." Annika laughed a bitterly. "Is that why you chose a white rose?" She pointed at the flower, her voice high and venomous.

"Magus made his attack out of black roses, and his teacher made it out of red roses. I already know those two attacks... but I have no intention of inventing a new shade like your brother." He shrugged and got up, walking over to the table where he could finger the smooth petals.

"You still could have chosen any other colour but white." She pointed out, softening her tone.

"I thought, whatever attack I create, if the rose is white then it will at least be pure." Nicklas let go of the flower and faced her, blue eyes unsure. "But I just don't know what to do."

"Oh Nicklas... there is no purity in that flower." Nicklas' shivered at her comment, and at the soft pity in her voice. "White is so empty! Your rose is not pure but devoid of any resolve. You yourself have no real motivation to go on with this, and so you can give no colour or shape to your future."

"Would you prefer a black one, like your brother's? A rose of darkness and pain?" The wind howled outside as the moon was obscured once more.

"No... but my brother's teacher... his rose was red, I think that was someone who knew very well what he wanted..." She let the sentence trail off as she saw the outraged look in his eyes.

"Devoid? What can I do then? If what you say is right then I am doomed." Annika blinked, unprepared for such a conclusion. "But I have no intention of dying either. So I had better find a technique I can beat him with." She smiled then, reassured by his determination to live. Maybe... maybe with time he would find his purpose after all.

But she did not feel that hopeful.

Magus was not a merciful person anymore, and she could sense his annoyance at Nicklas' slow progress. True, he had mastered the techniques he had been taught, but was he strong enough to evolve on his own? The colour of his rose bothered her more than she could say... for indeed it spelled down in her eyes.

But for Nicklas.

He needed a reason to fight, if not for his Goddess, then something else. She studied him in the flickering firelight, seeing him tired and too close to defeat despite his determined words. Did he sense his death too?

Such a sweet gentle face... snow white skin, sky blue eyes enhanced but his thick black eyelashes, and flowing blue-green hair, like the sea after a storm. Too beautiful for a boy, too gentle for a warrior, and too childlike for a lover.

Yet.

"How long do you have?" She asked, getting up from the windowsill and walking to the pile of furs opposite to his, where she lay down in one fluid motion, basking in the fire's warmth.

"Until the next snowfall... that should be within the next two weeks." He sat on his bed and hugged his knees to his chest. "It's awfully soon."

"The sooner the better. A cornered animal always fights stronger." She smiled and winked at him.

"Oh, that is soooo reassuring, Annika, thank you!" He laughed and lay down, facing her. "But you are right, I have to do this. And I will show you, too."

Annika rose up on her elbows at his last comment. "Me too?"

"Sure. I will yet make something special out of that white rose." She laughed then, cheerful peals of laughter that filled the room like her songs.

"I'll look forward to it."

* * *

Her brother was up early that morning, and Nicklas was nowhere to be seen. Realising that she could not go back to sleep in the biting cold, Annika got up to light the fire and make some breakfast. "You are up late." Magus' voice froze her on the spot.

She turned her head towards him and nodded. "I stayed up late yesterday."

Magus stared at her in silence, his grey eyes following her as she moved around the room in her usual morning fashion. "Nicklas is up early today."

This surprised her, she had thought he had been the one to wake him up. "Not training?"

"Training, yes. But out of sight. My guess is that he is trying to determine his attack." Magus spoke without much enthusiasm, and sat down at the table where his sister ate. He reached out to touch the white rose thoughtfully, and sighed. "Not that it will do much good."

"Why?" Annika spoke a bit more harshly than she had originally intended, unconsciously protective. Magus just smiled ironically and let go of the rose.

"A white rose... what does it say to you, Annika?" She dropped her gaze, knowing that he had reached the same conclusion as he, but not wanting to admit it. "He has no reason to go on, but to survive. Do you really think he will pull through?"

"He may still find one -- don't look at me like that -- all I am saying is that he has the power, all he needs is the motivation." She breathed deeply and straightened her small shoulders. "We all do."

"Oh? And what is yours?"The question stung, for he knew the answer to that one very well, and it was a cruelty to bring it up.

"He is." And upon seeing the smug look in his face she continued. "Because he has the strength to become what you so obviously failed at."

Magus' eyes flared, his hand reached out to grab her arm and shake her, but he didn't hurt her. "Fail? What failure, Annika? At least I could pass the test."

"But you didn't have the power to stand up for your beliefs. You used to speak of beauty, and honour, and now what is there left? You are cold and bitter, your black roses suit you now more than ever." She regretted her words when she saw the look of hurt anger on his face.

"Do you know what it is to devote your life to something that you will never see? And to know that you will die never knowing if your existence meant something at all?" He demanded of her, furiously.

"It's called living for a greater purpose, all humans do it. The future generations will complete the task you begin." She replied coldly, holding his gaze. "Personally, I think it's beautiful."

"Future generations!?" He laughed out loud sourly. "Like your dear Nicklas? A youth with no faith and no cause but the fight? Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"Nicklas may not be the perfect warrior like you, but he can see beauty, he could make more of this senseless fighting than you." She got up and walked to the window.

"Perhaps, if he lives. Which I doubt." She did not turn to look at him. "But beauty is there even if you don't see it. The only beauty I know is love, but we saints cannot have it. Still we try. I have my roses, and the others have their own form of beauty. There is one of us -- a Gold saint -- who writes poetry, haiku, to be precise; another draws simple paintings; and you, Annika, you have your voice. What does Nicklas have?"

Annika knew no answer to that, so she stayed silent, until she heard the door open and close, and she knew that Magus was gone.

* * *

"He says there is beauty even though I don't see it... I wish he spoke the truth. Do you think beauty can be born out of war?" Annika turned her head to look and Nicklas, who lay beside her on her bed.

The fire crackled softly, casting sunset shades into his clear blue eyes.

"Maybe. It's all a matter of points of view, I guess." He spoke lowly, and Annika heard the exhaustion in his voice.

"Any progress?" It had already been seven days since Magus' orders. And snow seemed to be closer every moment.

"No." Nicklas closed his eyes and curled up slightly.

Silence reigned then, save for the wind rattling their window in a slow eerie rhythm.

"Why, Nicklas?" He opened his eyes, not understanding her question. "Why still a white rose?"

"I don't know... it's just a feeling. But..." He stared deep into her eyes. "White is not devoid, it's clear, waiting to be filled. I don't know with what... but, it is. When I find my reason, I will know what colour it must be, and then, I will have my attack."

Annika closed her eyes, smiling sadly. "Don't you know your reason yet?" He just shook his head and turned his back to her.

The stayed in silence again, for a while. Annika had begun to think he had fallen asleep when she heard him speak up.

"Annika?"

"I'm here, Nicklas. What is it." She drew closer to him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"Will you sing for me? Whatever happens, I want to remember your songs, always." It struck her as a strange remark, but she nodded and begun to sing softly in his ear. She let her small cosmo envelop them both, as the song rang through them and she hugged him, like a sister would hold her brother, for that was all she could do.

And out of the corner of her eye she saw the rose open it's petals ever so slowly, as her song reached it.

After a while he feel asleep.

* * *

He didn't remember much of his childhood, almost nothing in fact. He had been hauled out of an church orphanage when he was five by a tall blonde man, who looked like a Norse hero more than anything else. The man who introduced himself as Magus, and told him he had power, and that he would protect the Goddess Athena. Those reasons had sounded ridiculous even is his young ears, but try though he would, he could not escape, Magus always found him again.

Until one day he walked into the small shack that was his house to find it was invaded. A sweet childish voice could be heard, singing an old song in a flowing string of mellow notes. He walked in, transfixed by the beauty of the tune, and met Annika, who would be his only friend and companion for the next four years. A small girl, a few years older than him, with pale golden hair and misty grey eyes. Nothing out of the ordinary in Sweden, but she was a mystery, and a break in the darkness of his life.

Other than that his training had been a constant monotone, from the day it had started. He sometimes tried to remember his parents, but it was almost useless. All he managed to call up was the image of gentle hands, and the scent of roses.

Gentle hands... roses...

But now he needed a reason to fight, a reason to live, a reason to go on.

And as much as he wished he could find one he had none. Athena was too distant a thought to count, and he did not really believe in her either; pleasing Magus could not be farther from his mind; and Annika... well, she meant too much to him, and he was afraid of becoming that important to her too. Should he die, she would suffer...

So, it was better not to tell her the truth, not to speak words of love to her, and not let her become his reason, or he become hers. He had to find something else, something he could control; which he could not do with his feelings.

Annika's voice... Annika's smiles... for him.

Those were all the things that mattered to him, and he did not want it to be so.

So he chose a white rose, a rose that was as cold and clean as he needed to be. A rose that did not speak of love, or passion, or anything at all.

Empty beauty.

Because he could not bring himself to hurt her.

* * *

Annika put on a thick white jacket and slipped on her furry boots, tying the clasps methodically, and action repeated so many times now she could do it with her eyes closed.

"Going out?" Magus stood beside the open door, arms folded.

"I need to get some things in the village, and I need some time alone, too." She rose and smoothed the wrinkles out of her trousers.

"It will snow soon, Annika." He spoke gently to her, a warning.

"I know, brother." She walked to the door and he stood out of her way. "I know."

"He is out training today, too?" He looked around, taking a little extra time as he regarded the blooming flower on the table. "That flower certainly looks well."

"It's still white." She stepped out into the cold, the wind biting her skin and making her hair flutter around her. She pushed it out of the way and walked towards the village.

Speaking truthfully, she had no business there, but she couldn't stand another day, waiting hopefully for Nicklas to come home saying he had found it... and then see him come in tired and defeated, as the skies filled with clouds, still not fulfilling their threat.

Deep down she had begun to loose hope; Nicklas had no true motive to fight, and was unable to find one.

He was so... empty.

She sighed and looked around her. The town people shuffled about, occasionally glancing upwards, and the nodding absently. The knew snow would come soon.

Annika walked slowly, hoping time would go by faster, and then again not...

"Such a sad face for such a pretty girl... What a waste!" A cool smooth voice raised the hair at the back of Annika's neck. She turned to look at the speaker, slightly flaring her cosmo...

But none came.

She stood, too confused to move for a while. It was not that she had not flared her aura, it was that as soon as it had appeared it had melted away into nothingness. As if it had never been there. She then focused on the speaker, dreading an attack, but nothing came.

"Fear not child, I am nothing but a flower girl myself." And the speaker, a woman covered in a white cloak, lifted a basked to show a variety of small brown packages, obviously containing seeds.

"Who are you?" Annika could not keep the awe out of her voice. Never before had she felt a cosmo like this one... or more accurately, such a perfect opposite of cosmo. The woman's energy was the polar opposite of the very energy that was cosmo, and thus when exposed to each other they were cancelled out.

The perfect shield, and the perfect attack.

"As I said, I am a flower girl. But such sad faces as yours sadden my days too." Annika relaxed a bit her posture, understanding that she had no cosmo to fight with, and other than that she was completely defenceless. No sense in making things worse.

"It will be hard for you to sell if you sneak up on all prospective buyers." Annika smiled tentatively, and was rewarded with a swift cheerful laugh from the woman.

"Indeed, but you wouldn't buy my flowers anyway... they are all white." The woman smiled, and Annika felt a sliver of fear run up her spine. Instinctively she struck a more defensive pose.

"Who are you, really!?" The woman laughed, the cloak falling from her head to reveal a dark skinned face in a halo of hair like silver. No normal woman this...

"A saleswoman, most of the time. I sell flowers, I sell advice, and most of all I sell the truth." The woman tossed her head to push the hair out of her face, and smiled again. "Do you wish to buy'"

"You are one of those who see the future, aren't you?" She drew a bit closer to the woman, trying see the colour of her eyes, to make her features out more clearly.

"Not the future, I see all the possible paths, and let the buyer choose. Just like all my flowers are white, but none are the same." At last she lifted her gaze enough for Annika to look straight into her face.

The woman's eyes were like amethysts, a deep blue-violet shade like a swirling mist of magic.

"Now I understand why you have to sneak on you buyers." She murmured, and once again the woman laughed, truly delighted.

"Quite so! Will you buy then?" Violet eyes glimmered wisely, with a hint of sadness in the rippling depths.

"I have no money." Annika shrugged, indicating she had no way of paying any service.

"You have your voice. Sing me song I can remember and I will sell you your fates." The woman's smile turned sad, and she reached out to touch Annika's arm, gently. "Tomorrow may be too late."

"Fine then." She gambled. If knowing the future could help her find a way to save Nicklas then she would pay with her soul if need be. "Let's sit down for a while and I will sing for you."

The woman smiled and let Annika lead them to a place where they could sit, on a bench near what was a flower bed in summer. The woman looked at the bare expanse and grimaced.

"Nothing is sadder than a bare flower bed." The woman shook he head in anguished silence.

"You love flowers, don't you?" Annika sat down and waited for the woman to do so too.

"I love what they remind me of... other flowers... other places." She laughed then, as if dispelling the thought.

"But now is not the time to speak of the past, and especially not mine. Tell me, child, what is your name?"

"Annika... Annika Parnevick." It had been a long time since she spoke her full name. "And yours?"

The woman frowned then, as if she considered whether it was better to lie or not, but at last she sighed and smiled again. "The people I sell to call me Moerae -- the fates -- but if you wish to know it, my name is Morgana."

Annika's eyes wandered to the seed basket, her eyes reading the tags on each small brown package. Daisies, carnations, chrysanthemums... and roses. All white.

"Most of those flowers wouldn't bloom in this climate." She pointed out to Morgana, but the woman shrugged and smiled impishly.

"Hope blooms wherever people have the will to live, and that is what I sell. As for the flowers... well, I travel a lot." It was a true answer, and Annika settled for it.

"Well then... sell me your futures, Moerae. And in exchange I will sing for you the only song I shall never sing again."

And she did, she sang of love, and she sang of the one she loved, letting her life and her heart go into that one song, that was all she had ever dreamed, and all she would become. And through that song that cried her sorrow, and the emptiness of a white rose, and the future she would give anything to have.

She sang of the boy named Nicklas...

And through all of this Morgana listened, and saw what was to come.

* * *

"Do you really think you will manage to find a reason? If you did not find one in all this years, you will not find one now." Magus crouched on a fallen tree trunk, watching his pupil with slanted grey eyes.

Nicklas glared at him in pure unabashed hatred, and then turned his back on the man, extending his aura around himself, a flowing green sea with wisps of gold.

"Ignoring me won't make it any less true." Magus stated, shifting his position to sit more comfortably on the log. "Besides, it will probably snow tonight, by the look of it."

Still the youth refused to answer to his teacher's goading voice, and continued to probe his aura and search his soul, a white rose clutched in is hands. He could call it forth, just like he called the other two shades, but still he could not give it any colour.

"Maybe you should have spent you last day with Annika, the poor child loves you, you know..." At last Nicklas did turn to speak to his teacher, fury etched into the pale ivory of his features.

"You leave her out of this!" He snapped, too tired to even bother with formalities.

"Why should I? She is my sister, and I know her more than anybody else, just like I know you." The tall man smiled and pushed a few stray blond strands out of his eyes.

"You know nothing of me." Nicklas stated furiously, his emerald hair billowing in the wind.

"I do, more than you realise. I know, for example, that you technically have a reason to fight, but you won't use it for fear of the pain you might cause." Magus smiled as the boy paled. "Yes, I know you love her, and I know that you will never breathe a word of it to her, because you want her to be free of you. That is the depth of your love."

Nicklas shook his head and took a step back, afraid

"Don't deny it, Nicklas! And just as you love her, she loves you. So let me tell you this one last thing. If you do not make her your reason, she will make herself your reason whether you want it or not. I knew this would happen the day I brought her here, when you were a child, thus I know that whatever happens, at least one of us three will die when snow falls." Magus got up and turned to leave, but Nicklas' voice stopped him.

"If you knew, then why didn't you do something! Why let your sister suffer life this!" He cried, his eyes pleading for an answer.

"Just as she said... we do live for a greater purpose. And I must leave a successor to my cloth, no matter what it takes." The wind picked up strength, tossing the leaves around them.

"Even your sister's happiness?" He asked, his voice no more than a whisper, yet Magus heard.

"Even my sister's life. You will understand someday... if you live." There was sadness in those grey eyes, and a sort of pained resignation. Nicklas had never seen them before, yet now he realised that they had been there all along.

"I cannot hurt her like that... I..." He could find no words to convey his feelings, just a sense of foreboding.

"I know you cannot... that is why she will make the choice for you." Nicklas' head shot up at that last comment, yet Magus' expression did not change. "She searches for beauty, Nicklas... beauty out of war. And just like I told her, the only beauty I know is love, and that is the one taboo for us saints of Athena, we can never have love. For the very same reasons you refused to confess to Annika. And those who did love, are the ones that suffered the most... like the Poet."

"Poet?" It was the only thought that came clean, through the confusion of his teacher's startling confession.

"Another one like me... but who was foolish enough to love. Now all he has are his haiku and his loneliness in the arms of one he does not want." Magus turned his eyes upwards, to the rolling mass of clouds above their heads, the wind whipping his face.

"You brought her, all those years ago... so I would stop running away..."Nicklas spoke, torn between fury and awe, that this man would have known so well how to manipulate him, and all the things he wished to.

"Which you did." Magus' sad smile scared Nicklas. "So I was right. She was your reason after all. I brought her so she would become so. I cannot risk creating a saint prone to fall in love... Blood is proof enough of that."

Blood? Nicklas did not know what he heard any longer, all he could feel was the bitter cold of the crisp winter air, and the promise of snow in each dark grey cloud. What was Magus talking about...

Not falling in love? Ever?

How could he prevent that? Nicklas shook his head and looked at his teacher, confused and hurt... and utterly at a loss.

"Either you die... or you will be cured of love forever. Whatever happens I will accept it. That is the way I planned it out." A small distant part of Nicklas' mind screamed in fury, awakening from his stupor.

"You planned on your sister's death?" he spoke low and soft, too angry to manage to control a louder tone of voice.

"No... I planned future outcomes, whatever happens now is your and her doing." The tall saint glared at his pupil and turned his back on him, walking off.

Nicklas bowed his head and let the rose fall from his numbed fingers, his eyes burning with unshed tears.

"Annika..."

* * *

"Those are... my futures?" Morgana nodded, her amethyst eyes tinged with a deep sadness.

"Yes, child. In almost all of your futures you end up married to some man who will love you dearly and give you many kids... yet you are sad..." The silver haired woman eyes the younger girl and sighed heavily.

"But Nicklas... He is none of my futures..." Annika shook her head, swallowing back tears of grief and loss, not yet to be shed. "He will die no matter what..?"

"Almost all his futures end in death within the next few days... save for one." At this Annika's head shot up, her grey eyes filling up with hope. "That is, if you become his reason to fight... if you give him the colour he needs... the feeling he cannot accept."

"I don't understand..." Morgana shook her head and bit her lip.

"Of course you don't... what I mean is... he does have a reason to fight, but he will not use it, for fear. You cannot be his reason in life... but you can be his reason in death. Forfeit you life in his favour, and grant him the power he cannot find on his own. The one future leads to his life, is the one future that leads to your death." Morgana sighed again, and adjusted the heavy cloak around her shoulders.

"My death... for his life..." The girl spoke softly, bringing her small delicate hands up to touch her lips.

"Do no choose it, child... live and be happy, it is his own weakness that binds him." But even as she spoke, the woman knew that by saying that she had sealed the child's fate.

"But how... can I be happy... without him?" Annika shook her head, tears spilling from her eyes, and she laughed happily. "I can save him... I can save him!" She whispered urgently, and hugged herself.

"Child... rethink your decision... you cannot give up a happy life just like that...!" Morgana clutched the girl's shoulders and shook her firmly, but Annika just laughed.

"...He loves me... he loves me." She murmured, and got up suddenly, tipping the flower basket in her haste.

"Child!" Morgana reached out to her, but Annika took a step back and ran off, her hair flying in the wind.

The woman shook her head sadly, and bent down to pick up her seeds.

She knew it was going to be this way.

* * *

Nicklas got home, but Annika was not there. He wished he could see her, or hear her sing one last time... but she was nowhere to be seen. Yet he had made up his mind. He would not bind Annika any further, as soon as snow fell he would face his teacher and let himself die... and then she would be free...

"But I wish I could hear you sing one last time..."

* * *

Annika stood outside the window, watching Nicklas drift off to sleep beside the hearth, his back turned to her. She had hidden as soon as she felt him come, so he would not ask her any questions... for she knew her face would give her away. And now, he lay on the warm furs, eyes lidded, dreaming of her.

Yes... it was her he thought of, now she knew.

Something cold touched her nose, and she looked up to see what it was.

Pale... like a sprinkling of lace falling down over the earth, melting as each wind-tossed flake touched the green grass. The first snowfall of the year.

She smiled then, and let the snow fall on her face, smiling at it.

You have lost... she told the snow. You have lost, he will live.

She turned to the window again, and saw that Nicklas was fast asleep, so she crept in silently, and walked up to the rose that stood on his table, cutting it from the plant with deft fingers. Once she had it she bent down beside him and kissed his forehead gently.

"You will live."

And she got up, walking out into the cold again, where the snow was already beginning to coat all of the floor, clutching the white rose to her chest.

(...forfeit your life in his favour...)

The woman's words... she had to become Nicklas' reason... his power. A power enough to give his rose a colour, a heart.

But... how? And what colour could she possibly give such an empty flower?

(White is not devoid, it's clear, waiting to be filled. I don't know with what...)

"I could fill this rose with my love for you... I could let my love be your reason and you strength, and that would last you forever..." She whispered, even as the cold bit her skin like daggers of ice and the flower lay nestled at her breast. "Yes... with my love, I will give you power. I will give you a rose the colour of my heart."

(...I wish I could hear you sing one last time...)

Annika smiled, and closed her eyes, her lips parting as a snowflake touched her forehead, letting the snow take her whole, as she begun to sing.

Never before had she sung like that, so purely, so entirely, so completely open and giving. Never again would she sing like this, so for once in her life she let all her power go loose and sang her heart out, trying to convey the rose the shade that suited her best.

She sang of love and loss to the flower, urging it to find her heart and soul, urging it to become the colour of her love. And then it was as if she and the flower were one... a sharp pain pierced her soul and body and the flower's thorns broke the skin and, pulled forth by her song, the flower thrust itself into her heart, seeking to draw out all the power and love she held within.

And soon the snow stopped, and the moon came out from behind to clouds to strike at the girl with it's rays, illuminating her pale cheeks, paler by the minute as the rose stole from her very being that which lent her life and made her heart beat. And slowly and surely, like the song that trembled in the air, the rose acquired a sweet flush to it's moon-kissed petals, that became a lover's blush as the song picked up strength.

All the night she sang, even after the moon went away and the snow begun to fall again; she sang of her life and of love and of all things that were important. But most of all she sang of the birth of a new warrior, and the death of a nightingale for the sake of love.

It was just a few hours before dawn that her song faded slightly, as the rose spread it's pale red petals fully, and the tremulous warble of her voice seemed to waver. And then, as she saw the slight lighting up of the horizon, and realised her time was almost up, she summoned the last of her strength and sang forth the last, most beautiful notes of her song, calling out the name of the one she loved until her voice was nothing more than a whisper and the rose glowed with the colour of blood upon her chest.

* * *

He found her not long after he woke up... his dreams had been haunted by her voice, and her smiles and laughs seemed to linger in his mind, as if by some art of magic they had been put there to last. Outside the snow blanketed the whole scenery, an endless landscape, glowing white. It was only a soft glimmer of gold that called his attention, a gentle rustling of pale strands of hair he knew all too well. He ran up to her, seeing her body prone on the cold ground.

And there lay Annika, her cheeks the very same shade as the ice beneath her, the soft pink glow gone forever from her lips, and there, at nestled where her heart once beat was the most magnificent rose he had ever seen. It's colour a red so deep it seemed to outshine all the colours he knew, and such a power seemed to linger in the frail petals that he had to bow to his knees to touch it. One hand upon the warm flower, and the other on Annika's icy cheek.

Never again would he hear her sing, or see her smiles. Never again would she hug him laughing, or scold him in ephemeral anger. She was dead... gone forever.

Tears fell from his cheeks, striking the flower in the guise of dewdrops, falling from the crimson folds onto the cold body below.

"Annika..." He whispered, but there was no answer.

This had been her final gift to him. A power to give colour to his rose, a resolve to give a reason to his fight. Here lay his final power, that his roses would be all the shades of red, as each would hold the strongest feeling in the heart of whomever was struck. He would fight and kill and let his enemies die with their final wish immortalised in the silky petals of a rose whose colour would be that of their souls.

But just as he had found his reason to fight, he had lost it, too.

Annika was dead, and now all he had was the memory of her sacrifice to lead him through, to help him live, and that was not enough. So he would somehow find a way to make it up to her, to this sweet child that had to die in order for him to live

He would find beauty in all this war, not in love, that led only to pain, but in something else. He would live on until he found something so beautiful and perfect it was worth loosing her, for she would have wanted him to find it.

For this, he would live; this would be his reason.

* * *

It was so strange, to see the surprise in Magus' eyes. Their grey fire flaring in wonder and then finally in fear as he realised what it was that had happened, and his hand clutched at the rose in his chest, staring at him as thought he were seeing him for the first time.

"Annika..." His dying words were his sister's name. And as his eyes slowly lost their glow Nicklas knew that at that last moment Magus had understood what happened. That he had known all along that something like this would happen.

But still he had not truly believed it, until he was struck down by the child that had once been so very weak.

Nicklas kneeled beside his teacher's body, his eyes drifting slowly over the fine features and down lower to rest upon the wine red rose, a red so dark it was close to black... and yet... such a sad shade.

It was a beautiful way to die, and a true victory for him.

And then gold exploded all around him and the next thing he knew was that there was a warm presence close to him, humming in tune with his cosmo, a golden song that flowed through his soul, like Annika's song, like the blood in his veins, like his life.

Yes... for this he had lived.

For this she had died.

* * *

It was almost a month later that the lovely boy arrived at Sanctuary, his body clad in a Golden Cloth that shone like the sun, yet his eyes, for all their star shine beauty, were cold and sad. But the boy was strong, no one doubted that, for only one as strong as he could have defeated Pisces Magus, who had been such an amazing saint. And only one as strong as he could find the power to wear the cloth and look so beautiful in it... and so very very lost just the same.

But no one questioned him, people rarely question a Gold Saint for his motives, they just exist.

So when he was called to meet the Kyoko, and he walked up to the dais and bowed proudly, none wondered why it was that there seemed to be a certain humming in the air. And when he was asked to give his name, he spoke clearly, with a voice too sweet to be so cold.

"Pisces Gold Saint Aphrodite."

And there was nothing else to say.

The End


Author's Endnote:

Hey! This fic is based on O. Wilde's story by the same name, and dedicated with all my Toffee weirdness to Stayka for hosting me on her page, and for writing such lovely fics that inspired me so! Love ya! (I still don't like Aphro all that much... but he was fun to write about! *grin*)


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