Lovelace

2019

Tags: body horror

The curtains were everything Requiem wanted in the world, yet at the moment, they were out of even his grasp.

Requiem sighs loudly, as if Frill, his partner, would have trouble hearing him if he did it normally, and leans back on his free hand, eyes straying over to the window on the far side of the room.

Frill follows his gaze, and glances back at him.

“Something wrong?” Frill asks, furrowing their eyebrows.

Fucking obviously. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go at all. The curtains weren’t even real ones, but Requiem’s own bed sheets, still smelling faintly of his sweat, pinned up haphazardly over the lattice windows of his royal suite. Requiem had one of the best rooms in the palace and tonight was the one night when they should have been unobstructed, when he should have at least been able to look down on the lively parade slowly weaving through the capital.

The windows shouldn’t have been covered at all, and especially not with something as tacky as bedsheets. Curtains for weddings should be fine enough to run through a pinkie ring, silky smooth against the skin, and so diaphanous it’s like they’re hardly there at all…

“They’re perfect,” Requiem says, offering Frill a shy smile and brushing a long strand of hair out of his face.

“Are you sure? They’re not uneven, are they?”

“It won’t matter if someone comes in through the wall—” Requiem tries to ignore the way his blood runs cold at the possibility of being caught, the way Frill frowns when he mentions it. “—and it’s a little too late to fix it anyway,” he finishes, shrugging and nodding towards their clasped hands.

Frill brightens up and leans forward, tilting back and forth, careful not to jostle Requiem too much in their attempt to look at their slowly-merging hands, thoroughly scrutinizing them as if any major progress has been made sometime over the past five minutes.

“Don’t you feel it?” they ask, voice breathy with exhilaration.

Requiem snorts. “It hasn’t even been ten minutes. Our individual cells probably haven’t even started melting yet.”

To illustrate his point, Requiem tries to pull his hand away, but unexpectedly tugs Frill’s arm with a bit too much force. Instead of being bothered by this, Frill only gets more excited, kicking their feet and shaking their mane of red hair.

“Well,” Requiem says with a laugh, “I guess there’s no going back now, is there?”


“I love you,” Frill says. “Please marry me.”

Requiem doesn’t even look up from his reading. “Absolutely not.”

His nose might be stuffed up, but that doesn’t hamper the severity of his tone. Any other waifish servant would have burst into tears and ran away in the face of such a harsh rejection, but Frill was very well-trained.

Instead, they laugh and bring a tray into his room. Balanced on top is a bowl of soup for Requiem, a second bowl of ice water and a towel, and a third bowl that they haven’t brought before. As Frill busies themself with finding a place to put everything, Requiem shuts the book he’s reading and hides it with the others behind his chair. If Frill got their hands on it, he’d never hear the end of it.

“Why not?” Frill asks, setting on tray on the side table that Requiem tiredly gestures to. “No one’s here, you know? You don’t have to pretend this isn’t mutual.”

Requiem shuts his eyes with a snort. “It is not mutual. Don’t delude yourself.”

Frill clicks their tongue.

“Uh-huh. How’s your fever?”

Requiem hears the scrape of one of the bowls against the tray and opens his eyes. Frill blocks his view of the tray on the side table and stares down at him with a wild, feline grin. Requiem’s eyes trail up to the bowl of hot soup they’re holding over his head, their hand moving ever so slightly as if they’re about to tip the contents onto his head.

Knowing Frill, they probably were, and Requiem was not looking forward to cleaning the dark broth out of his long, white locks.

“Please don’t,” he sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“It’s not that serious,” Frill says, swaying the bowl back and forth and making the soup splash up dangerously toward the edges. “Just reach up and grab my hand.”

It wasn’t that simple and both of them knew that. If they were truly in love, then they could never touch each other. Well, technically, they could, but then the hormones their brains generate when they were together would be pumped out in excessive amounts and the Requiem and Frill would melt into one physical being, albeit with dubious results.

It wasn’t a shameful thing, per se. Marriages were affairs to be celebrated and Requiem could feel the hormones flooding his body the moment Frill stepped into the room, but he still couldn’t bring himself to just reach up and push their arm away.

Requiem grits his teeth.

Frill shrugs and tips the bowl. Requiem prepares to be hit with a wave of steaming broth, and he yelps in an undignified way when he’s hit with ice cold water instead. He glares up at Frill through a curtain of soaked hair, and they step aside to reveal the bowl of soup sitting harmlessly on the side table, offering the towel as a weak consolation.

No doubt Frill was actually meant to soak the towel in the cold water and then set it on Requiem’s head to counteract the fever, but, as their feelings got more intense, it was becoming increasingly difficult to pull off a believable aristocrat/servant relationship, even more so with Requiem’s illness.

Requiem takes the towel with a huff. While he’s distracted, Frill tiptoes behind his chair and snatches up one of the books hidden there, dancing over to the far side of the room with their prize faster than Requiem can stop them. Requiem sighs as Frill flips through the book.

“Whoa, is this...cranium and pelvis? I’m sure some of these are fun in the moment, but it must hurt to merge right after, you know?” Frill shuts the book and returns it to Requiem, who covers his flushed-red face with the towel.

“...You’re too shameless,” he grumbles, taking back the book.

Frill rolls their eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen worse in the servant quarters.” They lean forward and tap the cover of Requiem’s book with a smile. “I’m just happy you’re really taking the time to consider us.”

“Interpret it however you please. Where’s my dinner?”

Frill shrugs and turns to fuss over the tray and Requiem drops the book with the others, taking the moment to gather his composure. They weren’t wrong, they never were when it came to Requiem. He had been agonizing over this for weeks, searching for the least painful method or even some way of divining the end result, and all he got for his efforts was a pile of smut.

Frill turns back around, holding the third bowl on the tray and not Requiem’s dinner.

“So,” they start, twirling a piece of their short red hair around their finger, “I need a favor.”

“All right.”

“Marry me.”

“Not that.”

Frill laughs. “Okay, seriously. I’m opening a stall for the Living Festival.”

The Living Festival was a celebration of the kingdom’s history, and the kingdom’s history went something like this:

The kingdom itself was a scrap of unclaimed land surrounded on all sides by far more important polities that used the kingdom as a dumping ground. The pollution caused the kingdom’s population to drop rapidly, and no amount of pleading with the polities would solve the problem. The kingdom decided to find a solution internally, and that solution was to collect the remaining population’s genetic material and fertilize eggs in a lab.

For whatever reason, once the eggs were fertilized, they would multiply dramatically—one egg would turn into at least three million overnight, like a wriggling mass of roe, and there was still a chance that none of those fertilized embryos would become viable. Normally, however, there would now be three million new subjects of the king from a single egg and those subjects would go on to deal with the population problem.

Everything was going perfectly up until the population grew at an uncontrollable exponential rate, but that’s when the first marriages happened, big ones that collapsed thousands of members of the population in one go. This was unexpected, but it was something of band aid solution to the population problem, so for now, the monarchy was happy to celebrate and encourage it, and thus the Living Festival was born.

No wonder Frill was pushing the marriage question harder than usual.

Requiem raises his eyebrows. “You’ve never struck me as the enterprising type.”

“I’m not, but one of the other servants rented out too many stalls and it turns out mine is under a big pink-bloom tree, so I thought I could sell some sort of dessert. I was hoping that it would be so popular that a young, handsome singer comes down from Minister Wobbegong’s float and offers me his hand in marriage—”

“It still hasn’t been decided whether or not I’ll be performing at the festival,” Requiem says, popping her dream bubble.

Frill frowns and offers up the bowl. “Rude. Can you at least try this and tell me what you think?”

Requiem sighs and takes a sip, then immediately gags. It tastes like they started making a regular savory soup, but instead of adding in meat and vegetable, they just dumped in some fruit and candy.

“That bad, huh?”


“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!”

Requiem could agree with the sentiment if not its delivery. His right arm and their left were merged up to the elbow, and the feeling of their bones unknitting and reknitting together was absolutely excruciating compared to the flesh melting around them. Frill expressed their displeasure by cussing and squirming, while Requiem had been bearing it silently as best he could, ignoring the tears streaming down his cheeks.

The two of them had already started merging their other hands, and if they could barely handle the pain now, then they were in for a trip.

“Perhaps,” Requiem says through gritted teeth, “it would be better if we did this in water.”

“Wh-what?” Frill bounces up and down, amber eyes just a shade off from Requiem’s darting back and forth around the room. “W-well, there’s still time! Maybe we should hurry and draw a bath.”

“Settle down. What’s done is done. Besides, it’s not like we know that would help.”

“What? Then why bring it up?”

Requiem shrugs as much as can in their current state.

“That’s how Mama says they do it at weddings.”

Requiem immediately regrets saying that. Bringing up Minister Wobbegong was probably not the best idea while they were eloping, but if Frill heard him, they don’t say anything. Instead, they nibble their lip and stare off into the distance, their default state when their anxious thoughts started to reach a fever pitch.

Requiem takes a deep breath. “Frill? Are you listening?”

Their eyes dart back to Requiem for a fraction of a second. They responded well to the sound of his smooth, deep voice, most people did.

“I’m going to talk more about Ma—Minister Wobbegong’s wedding a-and my siblings’ weddings too. If that bothers you at any moment, just shake your head and I’ll stop, okay?”

Frill’s eyes dart over again, but they don’t shake their head.

Weddings, traditional, upper-class ones, had evolved into grand yet very private affairs. Only the most important and necessary guests were invited, and the lucky couple or polycule would already be undressed and safely out view behind lacy, diaphanous curtains.

The guests would watch in awe as the group stepped into a pool of water and from then on it was simply a waiting game. For the first half, guests would mill around and chat, with a few of them going up to check on the progress in person, but from the second half on, the guests would leave the room and give the group some private time.

There would be one last ceremony for guests to see the final product, and during this the new marriage would be presented with a palanquin suitable for their new dimensions. From that point forward, the marriage’s ew appearance would be a closely kept secret from all but their closest companions.

As Requiem winds down, Frill blinks as if they’ve just woken up and slowly turns their head so they’re looking forward again.

“Oh, sorry. Did I freak out again?” They chuckle nervously. “I’ve been trying not to panic, but I guess I’m not as confident about this as I thought, huh? God, I’m a hypocrite.

“It’s fine,” Requiem says. “I’m here too. We can panic and be not confident together. It’ll be great practice for the future.”


Out of all the ministers serving under the king, Minister Wobbegong was, without a doubt, the most influential.

She was the end result of a large polycule that spanned the political sphere, and as Wobbegong she kept all the accumulated seats and all the accumulated connections from her components, wielding enough power to rule the kingdom as regent in place of her nephew, the king. As a politician, even as a mother, she was commanding, aggressive, unyielding, critical—

—and she’s currently studying the face of her only unmarried child as she smokes her pipe.

Despite not being able to see Wobbegong’s face behind the curtains of her palanquin, Requiem squirms under her scrutiny, enough that she extends two more hands from within her palanquin to hold him still.

Requiem tries his hardest to seem like his usual self, up until he inhales incorrectly and triggers a coughing fit.

“I knew it,” Wobbegong says, retracting her extra hands. “You’re still too sick to sing at the Living Festival.”

“Mama, please,” Requiem says between coughs. “There’s still a few more days until—”

“Until what?”

Wobbegong taps her pipe on the side of her palanquin. It rises up on several spindly spider legs, and scuttles over to the window on the far side of the room.

“Even if you miraculously recover overnight, you haven’t been attending rehearsals. A few days is not enough preparation. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll get hurt, and then you won’t be able to sing at any festivals, will you?”

Requiem hangs his head. “Of course, Mama.”

The door clicks as Frill comes in with Requiem’s usual tray of food.

“Speaking of which,” Wobbegong growls.

With terrifying grace, Wobbegong spins her palanquin around, skittering towards the door just as Frill steps through. That’s not fast enough for her, so she extends a few arms and pulls herself along that way, zipping past Requiem at the table and slamming her extra hands into the wall above Frill’s head.

Requiem’s heart jumps into his throat, then sinks into his stomach.

“What,” Wobbegong growls, “is that disgustingly sweet smell? I left you to take care of my son. I told you to bring him specific medicine, specific food, and you ignore that in favor of feeding him this drivel? No wonder he’s still struggling to recover!”

Point made, Wobbegong retracts her arms and scuttles back over to Requiem, taking the place opposite him at the table. Still standing by the door, Frill bows with the tray and begs for Wobbegong’s forgiveness. Mentally, Requiem does the same to them, begging them to forgive him for never standing up to Wobbegong.

“I want to taste it,” Wobbegong says, interrupting them both. “That’s what you’re here for, yes?”

Frill laughs awkwardly. “I’m here to give Master Requiem his medicine—”

Wobbegong extends an arm and gestures for the bowl. Frill scrambles over to the table and sets the tray down with a thud, quickly bowing and paying their proper respects to Wobbegong and Requiem like they normally would have, then offers the bowl of dessert soup to Wobbegong.

The bowl disappears behind the curtains of Wobbegong’s palanquin. A few moments later, she says:

“And what exactly is this supposed to be?”

“...A dessert soup,” Frill says, losing confidence as they continue speaking. “I’m running a stall for the Living Festival, so I figured I’d make something appropriate for the occasion…”

Wobbegong hums and holds out the bowl for Frill to take.

“The texture is far too thin for that type of dish, and it’s too hot. Dessert soups should be served chilled, something you should consider if you plan on running a stall for a whole night.”

Frill blinks, surprised, then: “O-Of course. Thank you so very much, Minister Wobbegong.”

Wobbegong grunts and smokes her pipe. “Well, don’t let me stop you.”

“Pardon me, Minister?”

Wobbegong gestures back and forth between Frill and Requiem. Frill glances at Requiem, then back at the bowl. Requiem swallows.

It was a sampling bowl, only meant to hold a few sips or bites and definitely too small for the two of them to pass properly without touching.

Still, an attempt was made nonetheless. Frill’s hands overlap at the base of the bowl, holding it up in awkward supplication, while Requiem comes in from the top, hooking his thumbs over the inside and splaying the rest of his fingers out so they don’t touch Frill’s. The maneuver, though painfully, visibly awkward, is successful, and the two of them play it cool as Requiem takes a sip.

“Is the soup good, Requiem?” Wobbegong asks, tapping her pipe on the table.

Requiem nods. “Yes, Mama.”

“How nice. I’m glad to see you enjoying yourself.”

Wobbegong smokes her pipe for a while, deliberately drawing out the awkward tension in the room before she finally takes her leave, exiting Requiem’s room by simply lifting the far wall and scuttling down the side of the palace.

Frill opens their mouth to say something, but Requiem presses his finger to his lips, counting off the seconds before gesturing for Frill to speak quietly.

“That’s fucking terrifying,” Frill whispers. “Where do I start? And when can I stop whispering?”

“About now.” Marriages tend to have heightened senses, and Wobbegong’s were impeccable. “Is Mama the first marriage you’ve ever met?”

“No, just...she’s so big. I’m surprised she hasn’t left for the wilderness yet. Do you think she’d take the palanquin with her?”

Requiem shrugs. “Probably not, not many people would see her if she left anyway.”

“Huh.” Frill leans forward and rests their elbows on the table. “Do you know what she looks like under there?”

“Not really? I used to ride with her when I was a baby, so I’ve seen it but I can’t really remember.”

The two of them consider this for a moment.

“Hey,” Frill says.

“Yes.”

“Wanna get married?”

“Tact, Frill.”

Requiem would normally just leave him there, but an idea strikes him, so he decides to continue on.

“Wobbegong just lectured you for bringing me candy, do you really think she’ll allow us to get married? Our worlds are too different.”

Frill smiles. “I wish I knew what you were talking about right now.”

Requiem’s confidence flags in the face of their nonchalance, but he takes a deep breath and steels himself for the lecture he’s about to give.

Wobbegong aside, social class wasn’t really something anyone put stock in. When children were so abundant that vouchers for them were given out at the supermarket, class as a concept was random, haphazard. Requiem wasn’t Wobbegong’s biological child, and it just so happened that he was adopted into a family where his cousin was king, but the reverse could have happened just as easily.

Even though there was technically nothing wrong with their relationship as far as class went, that didn’t mean people weren’t going to talk.

Plus, there was the possibility that Wobbegong had a marriage candidate lined up for him, another connection to cement for her. Requiem made sure to push this as hard as possible.

At the end of the lecture, Frill is still smirking, their disbelief palpable.

“You know that could be solved with marriage, right? It’s not like they can force that other person to make oxytocin when you’re around—”

Requiem pinches the bridge of his nose. He was trying to explain that they could. He had heard rumors of oxytocin tablets being sold on the market for such a purpose, and if he and this other partner were then put into a situation where they would also naturally produce oxytocin…

The thought chills Requiem to the core.

“—and if we got married,” Frill continues, “it’s not like she could easily force us into another one. It takes more hormones each time.”

Frill was right, of course, which meant that Requiem needed to find another rebuttal.

“Did you forget the most obvious problem?” Requiem says, tapping his temple. “I may not know what Wobbegong looks like, but I know she doesn’t look like us. She’s giant, with more limbs than she knows what to do with. Don’t think it’ll be hard to act natural when we look like that?”

Frill thinks for a moment.

“Well, I know a few marriages who only took after one component, and they went back to work the next day,” they say with a laugh. “But seriously, all we have to do is plan. I can listen to see if anyone else is getting married in the servant quarters and we can time it so everyone thinks I’m a part of that marriage and then...well maybe we can find a way to get a palanquin early—”

“For fuck’s sake, Frill,” Requiem snaps. “Stop being so damn obstinate and just…”

Requiem takes a deep breath.

“Drop it? For today, okay?”

Frill sighs. “Why don’t we just ask Wobbegong? I mean, we’re making a lot of assumptions right now.”

“Yes, and we won’t be able to make any more if we die early.”


“Pabulum. Pa-cking case. Paddywhack. Padparadscha. Umm. Pagan—”

“I’m begging you to stop,” what’s left of Requiem says. “What are you even doing?”

“I’m talking,” Frill says, forcibly taking control of his mouth.

It’s not like they meant to. After a while, they couldn’t stay so far apart from each other, so Requiem climbed into Frill’s lap. From then on, gravity had a hand in their marriage, but Requiem was somewhat taller than Frill, so his mouth was the one left intact with both of them talking through it.

“I understand that,” Requiem says with a sigh, “but why so much?”

“I think our new voice sounds pretty, don’t you?”

“Once again, you’re exaggerating. The mass is just conglomerating now, we won’t see any real changes until...well…”

Frill says nothing.

Outside, the Living Festival is in full swing, and the cheering and chanting and conversation from the city around the palace dreamily floats up to the window. If...they weren’t doing this, then maybe Requiem would be looking out the window right now, the sheer number of lanterns and bonfire floats lit in honor of the bigger marriage who couldn’t attend turning the streets below into floes of lava.

There’s a crescendo of sound, the cheers reaching a fever pitch as the parade turns the corner, and the King comes into view.

It wasn’t unheard of for sudden marriages to happen during large gatherings like this, where everyone was hyped up by the atmosphere and camaraderie. Of course, the King had off-handedly mentioned that he would be interested in that sort of thing, but from that point on whenever he made a public appearance he would do so from a chamber on top of Wobbegong’s palanquin.

Wobbegong’s palanquin was as immaculately-decorated as always, curtained with heavy burgundy cloth and frilly, translucent gold-panelling, hung with lanterns and garlands of gold coins. She moves leisurely along, her palanquin swaying with the beat of the music, and Requiem’s siblings skitter along in the aftermath like little fish caught in the undertow of a whale.

At the King’s command, the kingdom’s anthem, the Song of Life begins.

Requiem’s solo is supposed to start 200 beats in, but without him there, that portion of the Song of Life will be left hazy, indistinct, replaced with the broader, looser sound of everyone else there trying to fill the void he left.

“You still have your voice,” Frill says softly with his mouth. “Go on. I’ll still hear you.”

They share a smile, and Requiem sings as planned.


Requiem can’t fucking believe this.

He was hoping for a miracle, a full recovery the day of the festival, but he woke up this morning wrapped in sheets soaked through with sweat, his fever higher than the day before.

Wobbegong had given her final say, officially barring his performance at the festival and since then Requiem had been lying in bed, his ceiling fading in and out of view as he tried to stay conscious.

“Wow,” a familiar voice says. “You look absolutely disgusting.”

Requiem groans, too tired to quip back, and tries to burrow into his covers.

“No, no, don’t do that!”

His covers are yanked away. Requiem balks at the cold air before curling up into the fetal position.

“Sorry, but your fever is way too high. Shit, I might have to drag your mattress over to the bath…”

Requiem looks over his shoulder. “Frill?”

“Who else would it be?”

Requiem groans again. “Nooooo. You’re supposed to be running your stand.”

They were looming over him, wearing a short robe with an orange and yellow goldfish pattern and a bright red sash that brought out their eyes, chest still rising and falling heavily. They probably just ran all the way over from their stall.

“No, I’m supposed to be taking care of Prince Requiem. If he’s sick, then I’m supposed to be by his side.”

Requiem pouts, unable to keep up his usual stoic facade. Frill stifles a laugh.

“Don’t make that face. I only figured out how to make the soup, like, yesterday. I never even thought about how I was going to distribute it to everyone, so it all works out.”

Requiem carefully sits up, coming face to face with the bowl Frill’s holding out for him.

“I only made one good bowl, so I thought you should have it. It’s nice and cold too, perfect for your fever.”

Requiem’s already finished most of it before Frill’s finished speaking.

The soup is wonderfully cool, sending shivers all throughout his body, with a creamy texture and a rich purple color. Interspersed throughout were tangy candied fruit peels and smaller pastries filled with tart jam, all of them made soft and easy to chew by the sweet broth. On the surface of the soup, Frill poured condensed milk into the shape of a pink blossom, then sprinkled a few petals and seeds on top as a final touch.

“It’s good,” Requiem says, wiping his mouth.

Frill sighs in relief, then smirks.

“Good enough for a proposal?”

“Frill—”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”

“—I-I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

Before Requiem knows it he’s crying, tears running down his face faster than he can wipe them off, and he turns away so Frill doesn’t have to see him.

“Requiem? Requiem, I never meant to—”

“I wasn’t trying to be stubborn the other day!” Requiem shouts despite himself. “I’ve been having nightmares, did you know that? I can’t stop thinking about them taking you away and replacing you with someone else, and I’ve been trying so hard! I’ve been doing so much research to see if there’s anything, any scrap of certainty of what’s to come—but there’s nothing! I’m afraid to lose myself and even more afraid to lose you and I thought I could convince you because if we get caught there’s nothing I can do about it! I just have to sit here like a porcelain doll while everyone around me gets to live!”

Requiem trails off into a harsh sob, and he tries to wipe his face again.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for crying and not being able to marry you or protect you and—”

“Who said you had to protect me?”

Requiem blinks. “I’m the prince, aren’t I? I’m the one who has power and influence—”

Frill walks around the bed so that Requiem is looking at them again.

“Having power doesn’t mean you have to use it. I’m a faceless peasant. If Wobbegong banishes me, I can dye my hair, put lifts in my shoes, and Llirf will be by your side in 1-2 business days. If you’re worried about them splitting us up, then rely on me to protect you.”

Requiem says nothing, then smiles.

“Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Trust me or marry me? Shit, sorry, I—”

“Both.”

Frill blinks.

“S-seriously? Are you sure?”

Requiem’s grin grows even wider as he climbs off the bed and does a twirl in the center of the empty room.

“Frill, I love you.”


The morning after the festival, Requiem makes a miraculous recovery.

Excited to hear about the festival from the rest of his family, he dresses quickly and waits in the parlor, curled up on the couch by the window overlooking the city.

Just hours earlier, the city’s population was crammed into the streets and it felt like the Song of Life was still resounding throughout the palace, unbothered by the fact that the Living Festival was now officially over.

It sounds lovely, more beautiful than the first time Requiem heard it, lulling him into a dreamlike calm as he rhythmically runs his fingers along the high collar of his shirt.

The song continues as the doors to the parlor burst open and all of Requiem’s siblings spill into the room in their palanquins, groaning and staggering under the weight of their hangovers.

“For fuck’s sake,” first brother Sand shouts, his palanquin skittering over to the nearest pile of cushions by the door. “What pea-brained peasant bastard keeps singing that damn song!?”

“Whoever it is, their voice sounds lovely,” fifth sister Angel says. “Almost as nice as Requiem’s.”

As she passes by Requiem’s couch, she reaches out from her palanquin and ruffles his hair before finding a comfy spot in the corner.

The song continues on, and Wobbegong’s children chatter about last night’s festivities and complain about the racket, up until Wobbegong herself arrives with the worst hangover out of all of them, promptly stopping all noise except, for some reason, the singing.

“Surely I’m not the only one who still hears that,” fourth sibling Bramble whispers to Requiem as Wobbegong settles and lights her pipe.

Requiem smiles and shrugs before turning back to the window.

Wobbegong smokes her pipe for a long while, surveying the room from behind the safety of simple blue curtains as the song continues on.

“What a lovely melody,” she says, extending another hand from her palanquin and crooking two fingers. “Requiem, come listen to it with me.”

The song dies out almost immediately.

Requiem rises slowly, hyper-aware of all his faults. His hair was still same, long and white, which is how most people recognized him and he was already tall, but he was taller now, and he had used some foundation to cover up his new freckles, and his eyes were more amber than yellow and he was hoping that no one would come close enough to tell the difference, and his teeth were sharper but the only solution to that was to keep his mouth shut and his gait natural as he crossed parlor, trying to avoid any landmarks that give away his height as his siblings murmur in the background like static.

As Requiem comes close, Wobbegong extends another two arms and cups their face, looking him over carefully.

After a long moment, she extends a fourth arm, and with a slim finger, carefully pulls down the collar of Requiem’s shirt, revealing a second, full-lipped mouth in the hollow of their neck.

“Did anyone see you come here?” Wobbegong growls, plunging the temperature of the room to freezing temperatures.

Requiem shakes his head desperately and scrunches his eyes shut, tears trickling down his cheeks.

Wobbegong wipes them away with her thumbs, then pets the top of Requiem’s head.

“You’re still my cute little baby, even when you’re married. It was Frill, wasn’t it? And you still want to be Requiem? Maybe? Something to think about, I suppose.” Wobbegong sighs and takes a drag off her pipe, then sighs again. “How adorable. What are the odds we have the same anniversary, hmm?”

“You aren’t angry, Mama?” Requiem asks, flinching as he cuts her off just slightly.

“I want you to follow our traditions, I’m not going to police who you marry. I just wish you would have told me sooner, but what’s done is done. Come in, come in. We’ll have you fitted for a palanquin—” Wobbegong grunts and rubs her temples. “—tomorrow.”

With that, she extends a few hands to hold open the curtains and gate of her palanquin. In the dim shadow of the interior, Requiem hears the whirring of a fan, feels the cool breeze on his face, sees several circles of eyes, some with multiple pupils, and a set of curled horns like a ring of skulls growing out of each other.

The experience is nostalgic, stirring up nearly forgotten memories.

Requiem’s new lips tremble.

“M-May I also have wedding curtains, Mama?” his voices say in tandem.

“You can have whatever you please,” Wobbegong says, shutting the gate behind him.