shallowness: Margaret Hale of North and South adaptation sitting at desk writing (Margaret North and South writing)
[personal profile] shallowness
Title: Not alone, alive
Author: shallowness
Fandom: Into the Woods (2014)
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairing: Cinderella, the Baker, Jack, Red Riding Hood, the Baker’s son.
Summary: They find their way out of the woods, the birds find Cinderella and she finds something out.

Disclaimer: I don’t profit from writing this fanfiction.
Author's Note: Post movie (I haven’t seen a theatrical production). The title was inspired by Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’. Found family. Supernatural elements. 1,611 words.

Not alone, alive: shallowness

They reach the point in the story where they all made the decision to live with the Baker, his voice peters out, his son is asleep and it’s time for them to leave the woods. They find a path out in the early morning light, but they all wonder what further destruction will lie at its end, so it is not just weariness that makes slows their pace. Cinderella keeps looking back for Jack and the little girl and recognizes the anxiety in their eyes.

“We can’t call you Little Girl.” Cinderella says, “What’s your name?”

“Call me Red,” she says, and from that point on they will.

In the village, the bakery stands untouched along with a clutch of other houses. The Baker lets out a sigh of relief when he sees it. They all quicken their speed. He lets them into his home. They sleep through the morning in whatever nook they can find.

After waking, Jack wants to go outside to explore, but doesn’t get very far, for all available hands are needed to rebuild the village. Red stays behind to root around the kitchen, while, out of habit, Cinderella washes the dishes.

“Do you know how to bake?” the Baker asks.

“No,” Red answers. “I should learn.”

The Baker nods and looks around, the slight hesitation revealing how much his wife was a part of the process. He says, “I don’t normally bake this late, but we could rustle something up.”

Once she’s done with the dishes, Cinderella offers to come up with better sleeping arrangements. She still remembers the confines of the castle and the tangles of the wood all too well, so she doesn’t mind. This house is in between grandeur and grime, and it’s standing. She starts to clean, as the scent of baking bread permeates everywhere, as it must have done before the giantess came.

Villagers come asking for bread, as the afternoon draws to a close. The Baker is the only one who talks of prices, and he gives that up soon enough and says the bread will be free for just for one day, but one day becomes two, and then the Baker is paid in goods and favors, not gold coin.

This is life, and it is not spent alone. Cinderella is nobody’s mother, nobody’s princess, nobody’s drudge. But she helps to plait Red’s hair, she makes sure Jack has enough bread before he leaves to join the work crew and she croons at the baby, and when she picks him up because he’s crying, she takes him to the father who must be both father and mother. Nobody shouts at her and nobody sweet talks her.

The birds find Cinderella quickly enough. It’s a relief. All her life, before her mother and then her father left her, they have been there. They heard her cry. They always came. They will always come.

The way she understands them amuses the children still. They have no gift for it and say all they hear is birdsong. So, Cinderella has to translate what her birds tell her about the rebuilding that is taking place far and wide throughout the kingdom. It’s good to hear that they’re not the only makeshift family springing up. Although nobody else knows the full story of dangerous wishes, golden shoes, stolen harps and magic beans, and although many have their own griefs, they’re not stuck in the pitch.

The news brings a smile to the Baker’s face too. It’s good to see. He smiles at his son and he smiles at Jack, sometimes, when the boy forgets that his mother is dead and is still a boy, a little reckless, a little prone to show off in front of Red. And Red is a good study in the kitchen, although she doesn’t always follow the orders the Baker gives. But he nods in approval at the girl, Cinderella sees.

They tell each other their stories over meals. Jack’s are full of where he’ll go and Red’s are full of what she’ll do. Cinderella remembers when she craved experience. That craving is a little tempered now, but every place the birds talk about make her wonder if some day she could see them for herself.

The Baker tells his stories to his son first, but as the baby slips off into sleep halfway, the others know they are stories for them too.

One late night, not yet midnight, but late, so late that Jack’s head is pillowed by his arms, and like Red and the baby, he is asleep, the Baker is recounting still.

“...and yesterday my wife told me that my sister must still be alive—”

“What did you say?” Cinderella asks, awakened from the trance she’d been drifting into.

“My sister must still be alive – Rapunzel, the baby the witch stole and brought up as her own.”

“No, before that,” Cinderella says, although she notes that he may be right. She didn’t get to know her fellow princess much, no more born to palace life than Cinderella herself, but she seemed nice, and if she is the Baker’s sister, he should find her and get to know her. Perhaps she could ask the birds to keep a watch. They will deal with that later.

“My w-wife told me,” the Baker has realised his slip. He is a good man, a brave man, a fallible man.

“Yesterday,” Cinderella says. “You said yesterday.” With more gentleness, she adds. “Your wife is dead. How can you have spoken to her yesterday?”

He is so quiet that she can hear the fire crackle and the children breathe. And underneath it all, her heart is beating faster than it did before.

“In the woods, she speaks to me, sometimes.”

Cinderella remembers a figure in a willow tree, a figure she knows she will never see again, and how it warmed her to hear such lovr when she was so very cold. Her silence must be what encourages the Baker to add. “And my father. He’s spoken to me there too.”

At those words, her eyes widen.

“Your father?”

The Baker nods, and turns to fuss with the baby’s blanket rather than face her.

She doesn’t know what to say. Cinderella is glad that the children are asleep, because she has enough to work through with her own emotions. She’s not sure what she feels – there’s jealousy there, certainly –and she knows she needs to sort it out now. She heard only her mother’s voice. She thought the Baker was going through the same thing as her, but the woods have given him more. He has lost more, she tells herself swiftly. Some of what she lost was something she never had.

“Is there a place?” she asks, remembering one afternoon, four days ago, when the Baker said he was going to speak to Jack, leaving Cinderella and Red in charge of the baby and house. He was carrying a pick and a spade, Jack told them, and they all knew he had gone to bury his wife. “A place where they talk to you?”

“No particular place. Just in the woods. When I’m walking there.” His voice is low, muffled.

“Is it just them?” she asks.

“What?” the Baker yelps. He had got up to move towards Jack. It’s not the first night he’ll carry or lead the boy to bed. There should be a bedtime for him and for Red too, but the last time the children had one, they had a mother to insist they went to sleep. Now they have nightmares, and Cinderella doubts if her voice and whatever she says are comfort enough.

“Red’s grandmother or your mother or...Has anyone else spoken to you?” she clarifies.

“Jack’s mother, I think. Once.” His clears his throat. “Don’t tell him.”

She wants to promise not to, but she can’t.

“Maybe he should know,” she says instead. “I think he’d like to know. But it would be better coming from you.”

She lets the words settle into his mind and thinks about the conversations with her mother by her willow-tree grave.

“Do they listen to you? Like the birds listen to me?”

“Er, it doesn’t quite work like that.”


“Why?” Cinderella is looking at Red when he asks, and it’s now her turn not to be able to look him in the eye.

“I just thought if my mother—. If you were to hear from her, could you say that I’m sorry that her grave was destroyed?”

“Where we met,” he says, soft and sad, and Cinderella says no more, but thinks of mothers and fathers, and children, and how they are not left alone, not entirely, as the Baker rouses Jack enough to get him to make his way up to bed. Eventually, Cinderella finds a blanket of grey and green woven some winter by another woman, and wraps it around Red, who dropped to sleep in a rocking chair and looks settled until a bad dream wakes her.

Cinderella goes up to her room in the eaves of the house and thinks about how the birds will come in the morning and find her here. Perhaps she will be tending to the hearth, perhaps someone else will. Customers, perhaps even paying ones, will come to the Baker’s too, and find bread baked. Phantom voices may urge the Baker on, if not tomorrow, then in the days after that. And for a time, she will be here, and Jack and Red and a baby boy, in a bakery, in a village on the edge of the woods, in a kingdom being rebuilt by their own hands.



shallowness: Five panels featuring pictures of different female characters based on my interests at the time. (Default)

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