Mistakes. The one word that could sum up her life entirely. Mistake after mistake after mistake. Being captured had been a mistake. Falling in love had been a mistake. Becoming a royal bodyguard had been a mistake.

And she cursed herself for every single one.

Each time her gaze happened to get drawn in by emerald eyes, she regretted it. Each time she found herself wanting to tuck her head under her favourite blue-eyed blonde's chin, she regretted it. Each time she combed her fingers through long, dark hair, she regretted it. She regretted every wry smile, every bit of banter, every giggle she'd ever coaxed out. She regretted the memories--the dancing, the sand-dusted snuggles, the night among snowflakes and tears--until she wanted nothing more than to cast them out. Every word pierced her battered, aching heart; every glance had her drowning in the need to take them and hold them and never let them go because if she did, then they'd never have to die and she'd get to keep them forever and always, just like this, but she couldn't, so she didn't, and it hurt so fucking much.

And yet she smiled. She smiled because she loved them more than anything else on this planet--in this galaxy and the next and the ones spanning past those--and she'd be damned if they died doubting it.

She was being selfish. Not as selfish as she could be, wanted to be, ached to be, but selfish just the same. As they grew older, she pulled away from them. She stopped smiling, stopped flirting, stopped causing mischief. She didn't glow anymore, didn't dance anymore, barely sung anymore. When she wasn't on duty, she was wandering through her garden, fingertips grazing the silken petals of roses and lilies and otherworldly flowers of her own fashioning. Pretty things. Soothing things. Things that died too quickly for her to be able to form any sort of attachment to.

Hours passed, days passed, seasons, years. Spans of time that would be infinitesimal--inconsequential--to a Sidhe, she clung to like a sailor to flotsam in a storm, despite the knowledge that it'd all be for naught. Too much, too soon, too much, too soon, toomuchtoosoontoomuchtoosoon. And it was in those moments that she fled to her chambers and cried until she had no more tears left to shed, in the company and comfort of the only creature left that could bring her even a sliver of solace. Her cat was not a cat, but rather a nightmarish protector masquerading as one, and she took comfort in the fact that he was under an enchantment that would not allow him to die so long as she breathed, and his quiet, soothing murmurs.

He was not the boy she'd adopted as her brother.

He was not the empress she'd sworn to protect and taken on as her sister.

He was not the man she was so wretchedly in love with.

But he was all she had.