Chapter 1: There once was a merchant.
There once was a merchant who had three daughters.
The eldest, Willa, was by far his favorite. He would regard her as his one true heir, and teach her everything he knew about commerce and trade. He rarely remembered he had other offspring, except when it came time to scold and reprimand them. He spoiled the oldest girl quite often, so much so that it made her quite mean to her siblings, especially to the youngest, who was a constant target of her biting temper.
The middle daughter, Wynonna, was much nicer than her older sibling, despite her rebellious temperament. She was considered as someone with a strong character, all while remaining a little rough mannered. Truth is, the girl could swear with more gusto than any sailor on the seven seas; but still, she had a good heart, and cherished her little sister whom she affectionately called baby girl.
The three sisters were extremely attractive, but the youngest one, Waverly, nearly gleamed. When she was little, almost everyone was fond of her, and would lovingly refer to her as the little beauty; As she grew up, she went by the nickname Beauty.
Waverly was nothing like her sisters. She was the sweetest, kindest, and most warm-hearted girl you could find in the kingdom, the surrounding kingdoms, and probably all the kingdoms in the entire land. It seemed like no bad sentiment could ever emanate from such a small statured person. Everyone who crossed her path would compare her to the most radiant ray of sunshine, or sometimes, to an angel escaped from Heaven. Even still, the girl never paid much attention to their affections, let alone took advantage of them. She remained her kind-hearted self in all situations, doing her best to please everyone, whilst incurring the wrath of her eldest sister without complaint.
All at once the merchant- Ward Earp was his name- lost his whole fortune, except for a small homestead a great distance away from a village ironically called Purgatory. The place was quite isolated, and far from anything exciting. The weather in this area was harsh enough to make living arduous. The whole family had to move there and learn to live a life far different from the rich and appealing one they were accustomed to in their hometown.
Upon moving, the father who was already inclined to drink, truly became a drunkard, intoxicating himself from morning to night. The three daughters, who were now of the age to wed, alas, had no choice but to remain at his side. Their greedy father refused to allow them to marry anyone who was not wealthy. So, they resolved to live a simple life- the merchant drinking his life away, and his daughters bickering around the house, cursing the day they moved to this dark and cold part of the country. Only the youngest, Waverly, seemed to make the best of the situation. She took advantage of their isolated location and lost herself into the small collection of books she succeeded in keeping throughout the loss of the family’s fortune.
One day, a few seasons after they had moved to the homestead, the merchant received a letter informing him that one of his ships long thought lost at sea had docked. At that moment, Ward was certain his luck had changed, as he was about to regain his former fortune. Everyone hoped this would be the end of the tough days, and they would soon live the way they had before.
As he was preparing for an expedition to the far-away harbor where his ship was anchored, the merchant asked his daughters what gifts he could attain to please them. Willa answered she wanted a mare, for she was very fond of horses and their stable only housed the old work-horse now destined to carry her father to his destination. Wynonna asked him to bring her some fancy liquor, so they could celebrate with something better than the biting wine he drowned himself in all day long. Waverly said she wanted nothing but for him to travel safely.
“Is it so?” Ward accused. “Do you have so little faith I’ll get my gold back that you decline my offer? Why can’t you answer a simple question without casting doubt upon me?”
The girl held back a sigh, and tried to quickly think of something to appease her father.
“Well, if you insist, Father, bring me a rose. Roses are my favorite flower as you know, yet they are very hard to grow on these rocky lands of ours.”
Ward groaned in his usual way, all while seeming satisfied with the answer. He put his long coat on, and left the homestead.
As Waverly went back to her room, she realized she had been an idiot not to ask for a new book. She had already read the few ones she possessed so many times that the ink had started to fade. Unlike her sisters, the girl was very fond of reading, and could spend endless plain days studying volumes of all kinds. Of course, she had a concealed preference for romance novels, but her intellect was equaled only by her charm. The young woman was oddly passionate about history records, chronicles and journals, and could even decipher ancient prose written in obscure languages. She had made a habit of researching for the sole purpose of growing her knowledge of the world. This peculiar hobby was not the best to make friends, and if not for her sister, Wynonna, the girl would have been terribly lonely. It didn’t seem to affect her too much though, and for now she was simply enjoying the prospect of a few days without her drunk and insufferable father.
The merchant went on his journey to the harbor, but when he finally arrived, he was distraught to discover that the merchandise would not be released to him. He fought tooth and nail for days, but the harbor-master and his men refused to turn over their findings. After a great deal of trouble, he departed the city just as poor as before; if not more so, after counting all the money he had spent on wine at the local tavern.
Intoxicated as he was on his way back, Ward found himself lost in a thick, dark forest. It started to rain, then snow fiercely. The weather seemed to worsen even more with every passing minute. The merchant was soon freezing cold on his old horse, far too inebriated to find his way back home through the woods. After going in wide circles for a few hours, he saw a light at some distance through a long row of trees.
“I need to follow the light,” he thought, “It might be my only chance to survive the night without freezing to death.”
He followed the weak light through the storm, falling from his horse several times until the annoyed animal threw him off for good, and disappeared into the night. The man rose up with great difficulty. He walked, or rather crawled in the snow, still following the light, until he reached an immense iron forged gate. As he passed through the heavy, squeaking gate, he could see a splendid garden and a path leading to a magnificent palace. Exhausted, freezing, and drenched to the bone as he was, he managed to close the distance to the mansion, hoping to find warmth and rest.
The front door wasn’t latched, all he had to do was push and it opened wide, and produced a long squeak. Despite the darkness of the entryway, he could discern a huge stairway straight ahead.
“Hello! Is there anybody here?” he called nervously.
“I’m a merchant. I got lost in the forest. I’m only seeking shelter until the storm is over,” he added.
He dared a few steps, and noticed a stream of light as it filtered up from underneath a door to his right. He knocked, but still received no answer. He decided to enter anyway.
The room was warmed up by a few logs burning in the fireplace. A long table stood in the middle of it, with bread, fruits and wine on it. He ran to the hearth to dry his clothes and warm his limbs. Rubbing his hands together, he took a few minutes to contemplate his surroundings before calling out again. The place was sumptuous, royal even, decorated with gold and warm wood. Whatever kind of people lived here, they assuredly were wealthy enough to pay little mind to him having a bite to eat.
“Is there anyone here?”
After receiving no answer, Ward sat at the table, and promptly helped himself to a generous pour from the jug of wine. The beverage was sweeter that the sludge he was used to, surely the best wine he had ever tasted. After having downed a few cups, he served himself a large portion of the food spread out before him. Now with a full stomach and an empty wine jug in hand, Ward found his eyes growing heavy and his tiredness caught up to him. He fell asleep within minutes.
A nasty ray of morning sun that filtered through the heavy curtains woke the merchant from his sleep. He grunted, not at all pleased by the dryness of his mouth, and rose from the dining table. His limbs were numb, and his neck ached terribly. He put on the cloak he had taken off the night before, and lumbered back to the main entrance. Fresh air would do him some good, as it could help ease his hangover and the heaviness still in his limbs.
The storm was long gone, and the weather had shifted into a pretty nice day. He roamed for half an hour outside, trying to clear his blurry mind enough to think of a way to get back home safely. He recalled that his naughty horse had run away and left him without transport. The vast domain certainly had stables on-site. If only he could find them, he could borrow a horse to ride to Purgatory. He followed a stone walkway in hopes of finding the building. The place appeared less daunting in the daylight, but Ward found it odd that the land seemed to be deserted. The discomfort he felt walking the grounds stayed with him with every step. He hoped he could make his leave soon.
Luck was on the man’s side, for he found both stables and a good horse. As he was on his way back to the iron gates, he passed a glass house and saw the shades of a thousand roses inside of it. He recalled the presents he had promised to his three daughters, and the shame he would feel if he returned to them empty handed. He reckoned that the only gift he’d be able to make now was the flower Beauty had requested. So, after hastily dismounting the horse, he entered the glass house knife in hand and cut the stem of a rose.
As soon as the flower was detached from its expansive rosebush, he heard a great noise behind him. Upon turning around, he found himself face-to-face with a terrifying beast. Ward wanted to scream, but a sudden paralyzing fear made the sound remain stuck in his throat. The monster was gigantic, standing several feet taller than himself. It wore human clothes, but was covered in fur as deep red as blood. Its appearance was beyond anything the merchant could have been prepared for- a mouth filled with pointed fangs, hands ending in sharp claws, and two angry horns atop its head.
“How dare you!” the creature shouted in an awful, cavernous voice. “I saved your life by allowing you into my home, letting you feed yourself and drink my wine, even staying quiet while you took my best horse, and in return, you steal one of my roses, which I value beyond all else. You'll die for this offense.”
The merchant fell down on his knees and joined his hands.
“My lord,” said he, “I beg you to forgive me. I didn't intend to offend you. I have three daughters that I've raised since their mother abandoned them, and I promised the youngest one that I would bring her a rose when I come back from my journey. “
“My name is not my lord,“ replied the monster, “but Beast; I do not enjoy compliments, so do not imagine I am to be moved by your flattering speech. But, you say you have children, so I will not kill you right away. I will let you return to them, in order to say your last goodbyes. In three weeks you shall come back here to receive your sentence; unless one of your kin loves you enough to willingly take your unfortunate place.”
Ward, who was now crying, bowed low, and thanked the giant for the merciful delay.
“Enough!” the Beast declared. “Go on, ride the horse you stole from me, and go back to where you come from. I don’t want to see your face, or hear about you until your time has come.”
The merchant didn’t need to be told twice. He ran outside the glass house to where he had left the horse. He mounted the animal, and disappeared from the domain hastily.
When Ward arrived at the homestead on the horse the Beast loaned him, his daughters burst through the door and ran to him. All three of them wore expressions of stupefaction and questioning. When his old horse had returned home the prior night without its rider, they thought their father had fallen in a ditch and passed away, likely after suffocating in his own vomit. At least, that was the way Wynonna had depicted his demise. The girls encircled him, and started to ask how and why he was showing up so late and on someone else’s horse. Ward shushed them and stayed mute as he entered the house. He grabbed the nearest bottle of wine, sat down in his usual chair and took a long sip of the beverage before starting to recount his misadventure.
“They took everything from me- the merchandise from the ship. They sold all of it, took the profits, and gave the excuse it was needed to pay the taxes and the sailors for their time and pain. I know full well that it wasn’t for the men or the taxes, but for their own wealth! They were too afraid that Ward Earp would rule the market again, like he used to do!”
“Still doesn’t explain the horse,” said Wynonna.
“I got caught in a storm on my journey back. There was so much snow, I couldn’t see anything. I got lost in the woods, but then, I saw a light in the distance. I followed it, but there were wolves. They made my horse rear back and I fell in the snow.”
The girls rolled their eyes in unison, for they knew there were very few wolves left in this part of the country.
“I ran like a mad man in the direction of the light. I reached a huge gate, and I saw that a mansion seemed to be the source of the light I had followed. I entered this building. The place was warm and bright, but there was no one to be seen. I just wanted to warm myself and rest before resuming my journey, and so I did. I spend the night alone, didn’t see nor hear a living soul. In the morning, as I was ready to leave, I crossed the gardens and saw the roses. I thought I could bring the one I promised Waverly. That’s when it appeared. A… monster. The most terrifying creature you could imagine, but ten times worse. A giant ogre, all covered in fur, with atrocious fangs and claws. It was angry, furious at me, all for picking a flower.”
Waverly couldn’t believe her ears. For once her father had remembered she actually existed, and it was only to cast the blame of his unfortunate encounter on her.
“Maybe you should drop the bottle you’re handling, Ward,” intervened Wynonna, “because you’re obviously already drunk as shit.”
“Quiet, Wynonna. I am not, and I wasn’t then either. The Beast is real, the proof is the horse that brought me home. The monster is coming for all of us if I don’t ride back to its house in three weeks, in order to surrender myself to it.”
“Father, no. This can’t be true.” Willa interjected.
“Alas, it is, for those were the exact words of the Beast. If I, or one of my daughters, do not consent to give up their life, this whole family will perish, enduring great suffering, and the name Earp will vanish from the surface of Earth.”
He sighed loudly and added, “I’m only here on borrowed time.”
Silence fell on the family until the oldest daughter started to speak.
“It’s all your fault, Waverly, with your stupid request for a rose when the winter is still upon us,” Willa blamed her sister. ”Don’t you realize how much you endangered our father? The Beast could have devoured him! And now that he’s back, it’s only for the chance to say goodbye. You condemned him to death, you selfish little scamp!”
Wynonna murmured something that sounded a lot like “Good riddance.”
Waverly kept her head low. She knew deep inside that she wasn’t to blame. It was totally unfair. First of all, she had not asked her father to bring her a gift. She only brought the rose in conversation because he had berated her, and she wanted him to leave her in peace. Also, she was certain the rose wasn’t the whole story, surely Ward had done something else to infuriate the monster; no one lost their temper in that way for only a flower. Still she did not protest, for she knew all too well that it was useless to affront her sister or her father on such matters. She had no real power in this house anyway.
As her sisters were arguing about her responsibility in their father’s misfortune, Waverly’s imagination began to wander. If they thought she was the cause of all the merchant’s troubles, she would show them she could untangle the whole situation on her father’s behalf. She was smart and brave, as brave as the heroes in her books. She could do this.
Before reason could stop her, she blurted out:
“I’ll go with you, Father. I will surrender myself to the Beast, so they’ll let you and my sisters live.”
The whole family remained speechless for a moment, until Wynonna finally spoke.
“Are you mad, baby girl? Did you hit your head or something?” She slapped her little sister’s arm upper arm ”Because, as long as I’m alive, there is no way I’ll let you do something so foolish. Your cute little ass stays right where it is, understood?”
Waverly crossed her arms and turned her head to avoid her sister’s gaze. Ward remained quiet, lost in his thoughts, then he cleared his throat and declared:
“We still have three weeks ahead of us to think of something. I’m sure we will figure out a plan to keep everyone in this family safe. Tonight though, I don’t want anyone in this house to discuss this matter further.”
Chapter 2: Feared and fortunate encounters.
Young Waverly meets the Beast, and no, it's not a metaphor or a euphemism.
Thanks to my wonderful beta @iwaseliteonce for editing my crap and thanks to everyone who took the time to read the first chapter. I hope you like this one. I'll post a new chapter every Wednesday. Have a good one!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three weeks passed without any sort of plans being made. Every time one of the girls tried to discuss the impending event, Ward would rudely dismiss her. Then, one morning, the last day of the three week ultimatum had arrived. The man didn’t give any further information about what his intentions were, instead, he dressed warmly, and asked Willa to prepare a meal for his long journey. When he was finally ready to depart, he called for his youngest daughter. The girl, who had been reading in her room all morning and did not see his preparations, understood immediately why he had summoned her. She shouldn’t have been surprised, after all she was the one who willingly offered to take his place.
When she presented herself to her father, he grabbed her by the wrist and directed:
“Hurry up, girl, cover your shoulders with something warm. We have a long ride ahead of us.”
Wynonna seemed to appear out of nowhere, brandishing a log in her right hand, she placed herself between her father and Waverly.
“No, no, no, and no. There is no way you are taking my baby sister to this ogre. You hear me, Ward?” she shouted.
“Calm down, Wynonna,” her father replied, “I am not going to lead your sister to certain death. She will serve as bait, only because she’s the lightest of the three of you. I can’t carry too much weight on my horse if I’m taking my pistols and carbine with me. It’s a beast we’re dealing with, right? So, I'll hunt it down, and make it taste gunpowder. You’d better make some room above that fireplace. When I return, I intend to hang its head as a trophy. Then, people will know better than to mess with Ward Earp.”
Wynonna did not seem convinced by her father’s rhetoric. As she stepped toward him to rescue Waverly, Willa hit her in the back of her head with a large pan.
“Go ahead, father,” the eldest said. “I trust that you are going to put that monster down at first sight.”
Ward nodded, grasped Waverly’s arm, and led her to the door without another word.
The journey was quiet, if not for a few sobs from the young woman. She didn’t feel as brave as when she had offered to save them all. Now that the moment was upon them, it felt too real, and she was scared. She also hoped Wynonna was not hurt too badly for having tried to protect her. Ward seemed not to notice her distress, or maybe he simply did not care. Not once did he turn his head to check on her. At least, not until they had crossed the whole forest, and arrived at their final destination.
Night had fallen, but she could still discern through the shade and shadows of the trees, the hidden palace her father had described when he came home three weeks earlier. It was all true- the place, the mansion, the garden, they all existed; and it was as vast as he had described. The monster living in this place must also be as hideous and terrifying as he had depicted in his retelling. A shiver ran through her body at the very thought.
They dismounted the horse, and passed the iron forged gate. A cold wind was howling all around them, but Waverly could only hear her heart pounding harder and harder within her chest the closer they came to the mansion.
They entered the wooden door. The young woman was now so frightened that her head started to grow dizzy. She couldn’t register her surroundings as her father led her through the halls of wood and marble. He called loudly for the Beast, but the words barely reach Waverly’s ears. Then, without warning, she was pushed into an well-lit room, alongside a massive, daunting figure who stood in front of the fireplace, back to her. The creature turned around at the sound of the stranger’s entrance, and considered her with surprise.
“Did you forget your manners, Beauty?” Ward shouted to a petrified Waverly. “Bow down to your new master!”
He pushed her again, this time so rudely that the brunette nearly tripped. She regained her poise at the last moment, and bowed the best she could to the giant before her. The Beast frowned, and grunted ferociously.
“I thought I would never see your villainous face again,” the monster stated coldly to the merchant.
“I’m a man of my word, Beast,” he responded within fake offense in his voice. “As proof, here's my youngest daughter, Beauty. She's got such a good heart. When she heard about our arrangement, she offered to take my place. She’s not the most obedient or useful girl, but she's young and certainly a better deal than I am.”
Waverly couldn’t find the words nor the strength to defend herself. She felt too nauseated by her father’s undisguised attempt to sell her.
“Is it true? Have you come here willingly?” the monster asked her gently.
“Of course she did,” Ward interjected.
“I reckon you're not the one I was asking,” the Beast protested, voice filled with irritation.
“Did you come here willingly?” they repeated.
Beauty nodded and managed to stutter out an almost inaudible, fumbled yes.
She looked so small, and so frightened, that it made the animal grimace. They beheld her trembling figure thoughtfully for a few minutes, before turning to Ward with newfound rage and an aimed roar.
“I want you to leave, now! If I ever see you on my land again, you will beg Death itself to deliver you from your suffering.”
The man’s face turned very pale. He bowed to the Beast, and ran to the door without casting even a last glance at his terrified daughter.
The creature approached the young woman slowly, as if fearful of startling her.
“I am sorry I yelled,” the furry giant said softly, “I didn’t mean to scare you. I know you only have my word, but I assure you that you have nothing to be afraid of, as long as you are here.”
The girl nodded, her mouth still unable to form a word, and her eyes still powerless to gaze anywhere other than her own feet.
“If you would like to follow me, I’ll show you the dining room where you may enjoy supper, while I make sure you have a comfortable room ready.”
The Beast offered her an arm, which she took after some hesitation; and led her through the mansion.
Everything Waverly stared at looked sumptuous. The walls were adorned with beautiful crafted hunting scenes, and though she might hate the sport, she would readily admit that the paintings were of high quality.
When she sat at the big table after the Beast excused themselves, Waverly started to think of all the events of the day. Everything had happened so fast, she barely had a moment’s time to assess the situation cast upon her. She had always known her father was a liar and a coward, but seeing him leave so quickly, and with so little care as he abandoned her to an unknown fate, drew tears of rage to the surface. Here she was, in the hands of an animal shaped stranger. At least the Beast had seemed… somewhat friendly. It didn’t make any sense though. Why would they have traded the merchant’s life for hers, if not to satisfy a wicked inclination? She grabbed a piece of bread and started to chew on it thoughtfully. If the beast had lied and she was about to be slaughtered, she should at least enjoy her last meal. The thought of being devoured alive evaporated her appetite, so she poured herself a glass of wine, and downed it rapidly. Liquid courage, as Wynonna called it.
About an hour later, the monster reappeared, and, after inquiring if she was satiated, calmly showed her the way to what they called her room. The chamber was nonetheless sumptuous than the rest of the palace. In the middle of the room stood a massive canopy bed. Beside the bed, she noticed a divan, covered in blue velvet, and against the wall, a large cabinet which, the Beast assured her, contained many night-gowns and fine dresses. In the other corner of the room, near a picture window, she saw a round mirror, a complete porcelain washing set and a hair-brush disposed on a drawer.
“Now, I'll leave you to rest,” the creature said, “I reckon the journey must have been tiring. Please, sleep as long as you wish. You may feed yourself when you’re ready in the same dining room where you had supper. Have a good night, Beauty.”
They disappeared through the door frame, leaving the woman alone with endless thoughts and questions.
Odd as it was to go to sleep in a strange bed, within a strange bedroom, held in a no less strange castle, the exhaustion of the day, along with the comfort provided by the numerous eiderdowns and quilts, allowed Waverly to fall asleep pretty fast.
She regained consciousness upon a beautiful expanse of warm, green grass. She was in a garden, with a canal flowing a few feet from where she was lying. In the distance, she could just distinguish the shape of a castle, which appeared to be at least five times bigger than the Beast’s mansion. It was undoubtedly spring; the blooming apple trees were wearing very delicate white and pink flowers. She stood up, and hummed as she took in the sweet perfume of the flowers. A similarly scented breeze made a few petals begin to dance in the grass before her. Further ahead, through the bushes, she caught sight of a young man reading, his back resting against the trunk of a lime-tree. She walked toward the gentleman, and, as she approached, started to visually define the details of his outline. He had hair of the most flaming red color she had ever seen, pale skin, and infinitely long legs nonchalantly stretched out before him. His profile seemed so graciously defined. As Waverly reached the young fellow, she noticed curves she hadn’t been able to perceive from a distance.
“You’re a woman,” she stated as she arrived at their side.
“And you’re quite the observer,” the stranger said, eyes staying focused on the book within her hands.
“But, you’re wearing men clothes.”
The young woman lifted her head, dropped the book onto her knee, and smiled amiably to the intruder, allowing exquisite dimples to appear on each cheek.
“Things aren’t always what they seem, pretty lady. Sometimes, you have to go below the surface, beyond appearances.”
Waverly smirked at the blunt comment. She had deserved that.
“I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught,” the redhead said quietly, introducing herself with an offered hand.
“Waverly,” she responded, grabbing onto the offered fingers with a low bow. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Nicole. Please excuse my earlier conduct, I realize how rude I sounded. I let my surprise get the best of me. Now I can continue on walking, unless you’d like some company?” She let her tongue linger on the last word.
Grinning at the newcomer, Nicole pointed to the grassy place at her right in invitation. “I would like that very much.”
The brunette accepted an outstretched hand, and sat beside her new friend, blushing as their arms brushed. She didn’t know why she was suddenly feeling so nervous and unsure, but she sure did. What an odd feeling! She wished she could hide beneath the earth in place of feeling so shy, but at the same time, she wanted Nicole to see her, and find her remarkable.
“So, would you tell me more about what exactly is beyond appearances?,” she requested.
“Oh there’s not much I would hide from such a beautiful girl like you,” the taller woman replied. The compliment made Waverly blush.
“For now, tell me more about the kind of book a woman dressed in men’s clothes enjoys reading,” she giggled.
“Do you enjoy reading, yourself, Waverly?”
“Enjoy is a grave understatement,” Beauty scoffed.
“I see. So, would you say that wearing a fancy dress is a necessity to take pleasure from a book?” the redhead asked.
“I think I see the point you’re trying to make. To answer your question, when I'm reading, the outfit I’m wearing doesn’t matter. A book can make me forget about my own body. I'm inside the story, or maybe inside my mind, I’m not entirely sure. What is certain is that I feel like I’m outside this world, like I can look at and appreciate everything around me from above. I can see so much more, and learn more from it.”
Nicole beamed, and a strange spark appeared in her eyes.
“Sorry. I was rambling, wasn’t I?” the smaller woman said.
“You are a very interesting soul, Waverly,” the other murmured softly.
They spent what felt like a full afternoon under their tree, chatting lightly and making acquaintance; maybe flirting a bit, too. Waverly found Nicole fascinating. The young Earp had never had a friend she could talk with about matters such as literature and poetry. Actually, she had never had a friend at all. Wynonna was her sister, so their closeness barely counted, and every time she had met someone somewhat interesting, Willa had been mean enough to ensure they would never speak to Waverly again. Now though, beneath the shade of a lime-tree, she felt like she had finally found the piece that had been missing from her life. The picture was now whole, and everything was perfect. She would be completely content to stay here, sharing in the moment with her new friend until the end of time. Alas, she could feel her eyelids growing heavier with each passing moment. She laid her head on Nicole’s shoulder.
She wondered, if she fell asleep in a dream, would it mean she was going to wake up in real life, or get stuck into the void?
p.s: For those who don't know, I'm @wino_earp on twitter. I'll be at EH Con this weekend, if you are there too, come and say hi!
Chapter 3: Of captors and heart thieves.
Beauty gets accustomed to her new life in the Beast's mansion.
As usual, I'd like to thank my beta reader @iwaseliteonce for doing such an amazing job. Also, thanks to everyone who read, left kudos and/or comments, it means a lot to me. If you'd like to reach me on twitter, my handle is @wino_earp. Have a good one!
Waverly woke up the next morning with a huge smile on her face. What a funny dream she had had! Nothing extraordinary had happened, on the contrary, it had all seemed so real to her. Nicole had seemed so real. She was so nice, so interesting, so cultured, and so funny at the same time. Talking with her was the easiest thing Waverly had ever done. It felt like they had known each other for ages, which made sense in a way, for the redheaded woman was a product of her imagination. Of course they got along so well, it was almost as if they shared the same mind.
Her smile though… Waverly couldn’t stop thinking about her wide, gorgeous smile.
“If only such perfect dimples didn't only exist in my dreams,” she sighed, releasing frustration into her pillow.
Now, here she was, lying awake and alone, in the luxurious prison she would have to call home for the rest of her life. She sat up in bed, trying to focus on the situation, rather than her night full of happy dreams. The Beast didn’t seem eager to slaughter her anytime soon, so she would likely be here, lingering for days, months, even years. She should probably explore the vast place, and try to get used to it.
After a succulent breakfast she ate alone in the dining room, she wandered through the palace, floating from room to room, shamelessly allowing the inquisitive part of her to roam free. Most of the rooms appeared to be unoccupied, but one of them, most likely the Beast’s, was ridiculously tidy, almost cozy. It made her laugh, for it was far from anything she would have expected from her captor. It didn’t feel primitive or bestial, but rather delicate, almost… feminine. She didn’t linger too long though, for fear that the creature might return and be angry with her for trespassing. So, she resumed wandering through the rest of the mansion, which was smaller and emptier than she had anticipated.
Her favorite discovery of the day was definitely the library. The room was a marvel, a dream come true for someone so fond of reading. She didn’t even know so many books existed in the world. The number of shelves seemed to stretch infinitely, and every last one of them was filled with volumes upon volumes, covering every subject imaginable. She could already picture herself spending a ridiculous amount of time doing research in this very room.
At eight in the evening, she took her now designated place in the dining room, and enjoyed another solo meal presented on silver platters. The excitement of her explorations led her to forget to have lunch, so she was nearly ravenous. She greedily helped herself to an array of different dishes, trying foods that were once unknown to her palate. About an hour later, once the sun was long gone from the darkened sky, the Beast appeared at the door. It startled her at first, because she hadn’t heard them approaching, then she began to worry that she should have waited for them before starting to eat.
“Sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said, trembling. “I didn’t know you were joining me for supper. I started-”
“Please, don’t be sorry, my lady. I’m the rude one here,” the Beast pleaded with her. “I came in without announcing myself, and assumed you wouldn’t be overwhelmed by me. I clearly made a mistake, so I’ll just go back to my room and-”
“No, please, stay,” the young woman interrupted, surprising even herself by doing so. “I’m not overwhelmed, I was just… surprised. Please, sit down. It is your home after all, you have every right to enjoy its delicacies.”
The Beast nodded, and sat down a respectable distance away from Waverly.
“Thank you. I do want you to know that you have every right to be here, too,” the Beast said. “Please consider yourself the mistress of this mansion. You may do anything, whatever you wish.”
The young woman acquiesced, even though she couldn’t begin to comprehend how she could be both a mistress and a prisoner in this place. This was probably only rhetoric, something light to fill the awkwardness before the Beast changed the subject.
“Did you find a way to amuse yourself today?”
“I did indeed. I explored the mansion. I hope that doesn’t bother you.”
The monster shook their head.
“Well, I found the library. Oh, Lord, I’ve never seen something so marvelous! I tried to identify and catalog the different sections, but there are so many, I think it’d take me days. There’s even a whole section dedicated to foreign languages, and another about civilizations. I can’t wait to work my way through them both, to really start my research on…”
The Beast’s lips parted, revealing white fangs. Waverly wondered if they were… smiling?
“I’m sorry. I was rambling, wasn’t I?”
“No, please, don’t be sorry. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. It used to be my favorite room, too. I've spent more hours in there than I can count. Some of the books became like friends over time.”
They continued chatting pleasantly, until the clock struck midnight, and Beauty yawned unconsciously. Noticing her response to the hour, the giant stood up.
“If you’ll excuse me, it’s getting late, and I don’t want to bother you any longer. I’d like to ask you one question before I head to my room though.”
“Beauty, will you be my wife?”
The young woman froze at the words, her eyes widening in surprise. Was the creature really asking what she thought they were asking? Was this a joke, perhaps a test? Was she going to be devoured if she said no? She couldn’t detect any kind of threat in their tone, nor aggression in their yielding posture.
Realizing that she had been silent for too long, she blurted “No, Beast.”
The Beast bowed, and simply replied “Then, farewell, Beauty.”
The moment she was alone, she let out a long breath she didn’t realize she'd been holding. She was confused, for it seemed that the animal had no desire to eat her, but rather to marry her?
Then, it made sense. The poor creature must be lonely after spending all their days alone in the mansion, isolated from the outside world. Otherwise, how could they survive having such a dreadful appearance? While she felt pity for the Beast, it was not to the point that she would accept a marriage proposal. On a positive note, they didn’t seem to plan to force or insist upon this union. On the contrary, they had been nothing but amiable, even gentle, and she would be lying if she said she hadn’t appreciated their company this evening.
Once she was back in the comfort and warmth of her new bed, Waverly thought of the redheaded girl in her dream. She thought of her graceful features, of the peaceful look in her eyes while she was reading beneath the tree, of the way they had been together without pressure or requirements…
If only the girl was real.
Still, even if she wasn’t, Waverly would give anything to meet her again, even if only in a dream. It was still better to know her only in her imagination than to never be able to see her gorgeous smile again. God, that smile. Just thinking about it made Waverly grin furiously. It seemed quite impossible though, to dream the same dream, of the same person, for a second time.
“Waverly! I was so afraid we’d never meet again. You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you,” Nicole exclaimed.
The young Earp was once again lying on the grass of the garden, with the redhead leaning gently above her.
“You’re such a charmer, Nicole Haught,” Waverly said as she slowly opened her eyes. Their faces were so close, only inches apart; it made them both blink. “If your smile is a reflection of your feelings, I guess you’re as happy as I am.”
“It is, I swear,” she exhaled.
She helped the brunette to sit and asked shyly, “Would you like to take a walk with me?”
Waverly agreed. The redhead stood and helped her rise, then hooked their arms together.
“Would it be silly to say I missed you?” Nicole asked.
Waverly blushed deeply.
“No, not at all. I think I did too, actually.”
They started to walk, lazily following a winding path through the trees.
“I’d like to know more about you, Waverly. If that’s okay, I mean. What you like, how you spend your time, that sort of things. I want to know, but we’re in a dream, so I don’t know if we’re supposed to talk about real life in this situation.”
Waverly frowned. She’d almost forgotten that she was actually asleep in her room in the Beast’s palace, actually dreaming.
“I have no idea what we’re supposed to talk about either, but I’d like to know more about you, too, Nicole. Please, let’s pretend this is all real. Tell me, I don’t know… what your life’s like. Please, just act like it’s real, for me.”
“Of course. How about you ask me anything you want, and I’ll do my best to answer?” The taller girl said genuinely.
“Hmm, let’s see… Do you live here? Is that your castle?”
“Yes and no. I do live here, but the castle isn’t mine. It’s my parents, or well, it’s my mother’s, since my father passed away.”
The smaller girl stopped walking, concern lingering on her features.
“Oh, Nicole, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you think about something so… sad.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine, I swear. It was a long time ago, and anyway, I barely knew him. He wasn’t around much when I was little. The only memories I have of my father are the summers my brothers and I spent in his hunting lodge. A huge mansion more than a lodge, actually. Even then, he was always out tracking game, instead of spending time with us. Hunting was his one true passion, an obsession really. That’s what killed him, he died in a hunting accident. Impaled by a boar, I think,” She shook her head, trying to escape the mental image.
“My mother has always been the ruler, the true sovereign queen, strict, but fair. Thankfully, she has a soft spot for me, for I’m not very good at following the rules.”
“I think you would get along really well with my sister, Wynonna,” the brunette giggled. “So, does that mean you’re a princess, Nicole Haught?”
“Something like that, yes. I’ll never be Queen though. My family is huge, and I’m the very last of my siblings. Which is fine, I never really wanted to rule.”
“So, what would you like to be?”
“I don’t know. Maybe an adventurer, or a knight. Yes, I think I’d like to be a knight. I like the idea of protecting people.”
“So noble. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you.”
“Oh, thanks,” the taller girl replied shyly, her cheeks flushed. “Sadly, it’s not meant to be.”
“Well, not many people in this kingdom understand the way I act, or look, or think. Thankfully, the Queen doesn’t mind me wearing men’s clothes, so most people leave me alone. I can’t begin to imagine what things would be like if my mother wasn’t the Queen, or if she didn’t support me fully. Even with her on my side, I can’t live the life I really want, like my brothers or the men in the kingdom do.”
“I think I know what you mean. Women are expected to only be daughters, wives, or mothers. They don’t get to have a life of their own. People always bully me for reading too much. They say I don’t need to be smart, because I’m pretty. It’ll annoy my husband if I get too smart, or know too much. Of course, I answer that I’d rather be alone than marry someone who doesn’t like me for who I am.”
Nicole paused, then turned to face her friend. She reached out, and gently took both small hands in hers.
“You deserve someone who understands you, Waverly. Someone who admires how intelligent you are. Please, I beg you, don’t settle for less.”
Waverly looked at her with a perfect fondness, thinking that, maybe, she had already found that person Nicole was describing.
They resumed their walking and talking until, just like the previous night, Beauty felt an immense wave of fatigue take over, forcing her to shift from her dream to an unwanted reality.
It was the morning of her second day in her gilded cage. If she dreamed every night of Nicole though, she wasn’t going to complain. She knew that just remembering the redheaded girl would keep her content and lighthearted for hours. If she could, she would stay asleep, and dream all day of her mysterious princess. Alas, despite the chill of the early spring weather, the sun was high in the sky, and there was no way she could fall asleep again in the warm daylight.
The young woman ate a frugal breakfast before heading to the library. She had nothing else to do, after all, and she was looking forward to spending hours amongst the marvelous volumes she had only just discovered the previous afternoon.
What a surprise it was to find a fire lit in the massive fireplace, giving the room a warmth it had cruelly lacked the day before. A kettle hung above the flames. A fine porcelain cup, tea pot, and some cookies on an ornate plate, were all purposely placed on a small table near the hearth. She couldn’t believe this arrangement was meant for her, so she called out lightly into the cavernous room. After several long minutes of listening to her voice echo, she realized the Beast probably had left this for her. The act was ridiculously simple, but it moved her deeply, for the truth was, no one had ever done something like this for her. A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she smiled. She sat comfortably in the nearby armchair, opened the book she had meticulously chosen, and calmed.
The day passed quickly between studious reading sessions and daydreams of an imaginary redheaded princess. When the light began to fade, she headed back downstairs to the dining room. The table was already set, so she sat down and waited for her host to join. Just as she suspected, the monster showed up at the very same hour they did the day before, nine o’clock.
As they exchanged delicacies and a few polite words, Waverly mentioned what she had found in the library, and thanked the Beast for it. The creature shrugged, and replied timidly.
“You don’t have to thank me, Beauty. I want you to feel at ease here, regardless of the circumstances. I’m glad to know you appreciated it though.”
Waverly smiled amiably at them. What a peculiar captor, she thought. She wasn’t used to such good manners or thoughtful consideration. It was so far from her life at the homestead, between her drunken father constantly reprimanding her, and her eldest sister cruelly tormenting her to the brink of tears. Why was it that this stranger had showed her more kindness in two days than her own family had in her whole life? Her life here was nothing like what she had expected.
They talked cordially for a while, until the conversation finally waned. The Beast then stood, and repeated the same question they had asked the night before.
“Beauty, will you be my wife?”
She shook her head, and replied, “No, Beast.”
“Then, farewell and goodnight, Beauty.”
Chapter 4: A crown of daisies for a kingdom of roses.
A very floral chapter this week. Also, some relationships deepen.
This chapter couldn't have been done without the help of my incredible beta-reader @iwaseliteone. Enjoy!
It had been a little less than a dozen days since the merchant left his youngest daughter to live with a hideous Beast, in exchange for his own life. The woman was still growing accustomed to living with a stranger in an immense mansion, but she seemed to be adapting quickly. Though she was left alone from morning till dusk, she was rarely bored, for she often spent entire days among the volumes of the library, advancing her studies.
At her great pleasure, she had continued to dream of Nicole every night since she had arrived. The redhead was now a big part of her life, the nocturnal side of it anyway, and had become an absolute solace in the midst of her exile. For now, she didn’t care if her friend was real or a product of her imagination. She decided not to worry about the finer details, choosing instead to enjoy every minute she could spend with her. Their bond had started slowly, almost timidly, but they had grown more intimate with each encounter. The growth felt almost spiritual at first, built around long, in depth talks about their respective lives, what they liked or disliked, and their biggest fears. Every word they shared helped to seal an impenetrable trust between them, for they were both the keeper of the other’s deepest secrets. It was so fulfilling for Waverly to finally have someone who could see the truth in her, and accept her just as she was. Then, they became physically close, so close that they would unconsciously hold hands every time they walked together. They would lay in the grass with their limbs intertwined, exchanging long looks and smooth caresses. Even with her lack of experience when it came to friendship, the young Earp knew that it was something far greater, that they had reached another level of bond. Their connection was more profound than anything Waverly had ever experienced, and she couldn’t stop wishing she could constantly bask into the redhead’s physical presence. It was as if she needed it to breathe.
Dream or not, she swore she could actually feel Nicole with all of her body and soul. And, since they met only in dreams, there was nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of.
Surprisingly, she had also become more comfortable around her captor, no longer dreading their abominable features. If she was being honest, she often looked forward to spending her suppers chatting with them. One evening, as the conversation at the dinner table was flowing very pleasantly, Waverly finally gathered the courage to dare to ask the question she had yearned to for days. Truth be told, her curiosity was piqued, and while she had a few theories about it, the only way to be sure was to ask the creature.
“Beast, can I ask you a question?” she said hesitantly.
“Of course, Beauty. You can ask me anything.”
“I was wondering, how come I never see you during the day? It's like you hide in your room until the clock strikes nine. Does the sun burn you?”
The Beast responded with a shake of their head.
“No, nothing like that, my lady.”
They remained silent for a few seconds, as if they were looking for the right words.
“It’s for your sake. I only present myself under weak light, because I’m well aware of my hideousness. My deformity is not a thing I wish to show your delicate eyes.”
“Oh. Aren’t you ever lonely, hidden away in your chambers all day?”
The Beast chuckled at the sentence.
“I don’t really stay locked in my apartment, you know. Otherwise, this table would be bare. My mornings are usually spent gardening and food preparation. I don’t have servants around to do it for me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve never really thought about that.”
She dropped her gaze on her plate to hide her ashamed expression.
“It would be a lie if I pretended I don’t get lonely sometimes,” the creature resumed. “It’s a price I’m willing to pay to not scare or nauseate you. I enjoy our evenings together enough to endure the occasional isolation.”
Waverly stood up and walked towards the Beast, moving to gently cup their furry jaw in her right hand. The monster froze.
“Look at me, Beast, really look at me. I’m looking right at you, and I’m not afraid. I'm not scared of you or the way you look.”
“You’re not?” they asked shyly.
“No, because I know you, and I know there is so much more to you than what meets the eye. I confess that I may have been frightened at first, but that was because of what my father said about you. He almost convinced me that you'd devour me at first sight, but I was wrong, and so was he. Since I’ve been here, you've been nothing but kind and generous.”
The giant took a minute to look into the girl’s eyes, searching for any trace of unease.
“Please stop hiding from me,” she pleaded.
The beast sighed heavily, as if a huge burden had been lifted from their shoulders, and nodded.
“If you’re sure seeing me in sunlight won’t bother you, then I’ll stop hiding.”
“I’m absolutely sure, Beast,” Waverly said shaking her head. “Believe me, it takes more than that to churn an Earp's stomach.”
She remained thoughtful for a few minutes, then asked, “Beast, will you take a walk with me tomorrow afternoon? I’ve been longing to see the roses that sealed my destiny. Actually, I’m really curious to know how you manage to grow them in this kind of weather.”
“Yes, I will. Speaking of, we’ll need to find you something warm to wear. We had some cold winds the past few days, and I would feel awful if you caught a cold.”
The young woman smiled. How could such a dreadful looking creature have such delicate manners? How could they be so attentive and devoted to a stranger?
After they finished supper, the Beast stood. Before taking their leave, they made their daily proposal, which Beauty declined politely, as usual.
The next afternoon, Waverly came downstairs to find the Beast waiting patiently for her in the hallway. They bowed nervously at the sight of her, inquiring if she had slept well and had a pleasant morning. They enveloped the brunette’s shoulders in an ermine fur cape, before leading her out of the building. Waverly was thrilled to enjoy some fresh air, for since she had arrived, she had only caught occasional glimpses of the outside from the open window in her room. She realized now how stupid she had been. Her host never forbade her to venture outdoors, and from what she could see, it would be a waste to stay inside any longer.
They walked through the French garden surrounding the mansion to a small glass house tucked a little further from sight. When they entered, the young woman was struck by a wave of colors and scents. Everywhere her eyes could see, there were magnificent rose bushes of all sorts.
“Oh. Beast, this is splendid. All these flowers… Wait, are they all roses?”
“Yes, they are indeed,” the creature beamed.
“This is… I can’t even find words to describe how marvelous it is. Did I tell you that roses are my favorite? Are they yours, too?”
“I… Well, not exactly. Let’s just say they remind me of someone.”
“You must hold this person in high regard to create such a haven of beauty for them.”
The monster cleared their throat, visibly uncomfortable.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
The girl roamed through the building, smelling the flowers and humming contently, so drunk with pleasure that she was almost dancing through the bushes.
“You know, I quite understand why you were so angry with my father. You surely spent an awful amount of time taking care of all these plants. If I created this, I wouldn’t want anyone to approach it, let alone touch it.”
The creature acquiesced and, when the girl was a little bit too far to hear, added, “Anyone but you, my love.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent by The Beast explaining the differences between every variety of roses, their specifics, and the special care provided to them- and answering hundreds of questions Waverly asked them. They were very patient, and seemed more pleased than annoyed to share all they knew about the flowers with the young woman. They even asked her to choose which she liked the most, and composed a huge bouquet for her. The girl was delighted to bring a little part of this marvelous place inside with her. The blooms would be a perfect way to decorate her room, and she was looking forward to falling asleep still breathing in the flowers’ sweet scent. It was by far the best day Waverly had had since the night her father had led her to this place.
That night, Waverly joined Nicole in their garden, eyes and voice still excited to tell her companion about all the beauty and color she had beheld during the day. The only part she always kept from the red-haired girl was that she was being held captive by an animal-shaped giant. Not that she was ashamed of her current state, but because she simply didn’t want her companion to be worried about her tragic fate.
“I visited a glass house today,” the brunette said, “I was literally surrounded by roses, like immersed in beauty itself. I wish you’d been there to see it, to smell it. So many colors and perfumes! You’d think they all smell the same, but they don’t. Some seem to have no smell at all, while others have the most exquisite perfume.”
“So, you really like flowers?” The redhead asked, picking up some perched in the grass beside them.
“I like them all, but roses are definitely my favorite.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I feel like a rose is more complicated than any other flower.”
“More complicated?” The redhead questioned, quirking an eyebrow.
“Yes, because at first you only see the flower itself, how gorgeous it is, but if you try to pick one up, you’ll find it’s not that easy. Their stem is strong, and covered with thorns. Roses can really make you bleed, you know. Have you ever seen a rosebush in the heart of winter? It’s awful and depressing, just a big bush of spikes, really. You’d think all beauty is gone forever, but it’s not. This hideous, useless thing is still capable of creating the most delicate buds, and is just waiting for a chance to bloom again.”
“Wow. I didn’t really like flowers before but now, I think roses are my favorite too,” she laughed. “I’m sorry I don’t have any rose to give you, but will you accept this?” She grinned, and presented a flower crown made of daisies from behind her back.
“Nicole, it’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, “When did you make this?”
“When you were talking? Don’t worry, I was listening too. I can do more than one thing at the same time.”
“I didn’t even notice! I was rambling again, wasn’t I? I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, I like it when you’re so passionate about a subject that you lose track of everything else.”
The young Earp smiled fondly at the other woman.
“Now, shall I crown you, princess?”
“I am no princess, you are,” she giggled.
“But you are the queen of my heart,” Nicole said with a wink as she placed the crown on the top of the brunette’s head. She let her right hand descend slowly down the other girl’s cheek, stroking it lightly with her thumb. Their eyes locked. “And to prove my devotion, I’m going to grow you a million roses.”
“Always the charmer, Nicole Haught,” Waverly said, as she pushed her shoulders to force her to lay on the grass. When the other woman was perfectly horizontal, she settled herself on top of her and dropped her head to Nicole’s chest. The taller girl grinned immensely, let out a sigh of contentment, and started to caress her hair.
“I will though. Just wait and see.”
Days passed like hours. Every day after the visit to the glass house, Waverly and the Beast would meet in the early afternoon to go on a walk together. If the weather was warm enough, the woman would propose to have a picnic on the grass outside. Something had changed between them after their first day amongst the rose bushes. After witnessing all the delicate care the Beast provided to their flowers, the young Earp was convinced they could never hurt anyone, let alone hurt her. She was now liberated from the very last ounce of fear she’d had towards the monster, and they seem to feel it, because from that day forward, the creature stopped hiding. Soon, the two ended up spending most of their afternoons together, roaming through numerous sections of the garden, chatting about books they had read, recounting adventures in far-away lands, ancient worlds and forgotten treasures. Sometimes, the young Earp would bring a volume from the library with her, and read it to the giant who listened intently. To the woman’s delight, they would also return to the glass house on a regular to take care of the Beast’s prized roses.
After a couple of weeks, Waverly offered the giant to help them with the morning housework. She swore she was an excellent cook, and could take care of a vegetable garden like no one else. These facts were true, proven by the succulent meals she often prepared for her picky sisters, and her oft successful harvests at the homestead. They declined at first, but upon facing the girl’s stubbornness, had no choice but to yield to her insistence. And soon, the pair was not only spending their afternoons together, but the mornings as well. Unexpectedly, they quickly formed a very natural routine, easily sharing the same space, as if they had done it their whole lives.
It was an odd period of time for Waverly; odd in a sense that she had never experienced so much enjoyment in her short life. As long as she could remember, her years had been clouded with the sad memories of her mother’s departure, her father’s disdain, and her oldest sister’s wickedness. Sure, she could recall some good times, mostly playing with Wynonna, but they seemed to be only moments of relief in a lifetime of seeming torture. For the first time, she felt… safe? Wasn’t it strange to feel this tranquil, when she was nothing but a prisoner? She didn’t like to think of herself this way though- in her mind she was a willing participant in a trade. She had sacrificed her freedom to keep the Earp family safe, even her ungrateful, poor excuse of a father, and her hysterically mean sister. She was a hero of the peace. Plus, she knew now, in the deep of her heart, that the Beast was surely the most harmless being of all the lands. Despite their abominable appearance, they had proved to be a very trustworthy, attentive, and caring friend.
She didn’t really miss her old life. Here, the creature’s only desire seemed to be to please her, and she could spend her days as she wished, without any judgment or harshness. And of course, every night she would join Nicole in their dream world, which surely played a big part in her newfound sense of happiness. Now, both her days and nights were equally pleasant, because she would spend both amongst lovely company.
Once, as she was walking along a rank of oaks with the Beast, Waverly said:
“You seem so much happier these days, my dear Beast. You’re so different from the first time we met. To be honest, you were a little bit… gloomy then.”
The creature smiled shyly, but said nothing. It was true, they were happier than they had been for a very long time, and it was showing.
“You know, it makes you look so young, the happiness, I mean. I can almost picture you as a child, running along on your little paws.”
The beast started to laugh, a laugh so big and genuine, it made the flora around them tremble, as if wind blown.
“My little paws. Oh my God, you have such a marvelous imagination, Beauty.”
The woman frowned with incomprehension.
“I’m sorry to shatter this fantasy of yours, but I was never a puppy. Ever. See, I wasn’t exactly born this way, all covered in fur, with claws for days. I was born human, just like you, a baby with smooth, pink skin, ten little fingers, and ten little toes.”
Waverly’s eyes grew wide.
“Human. But, how? I mean, how did you become this?”
The young Earp cursed herself for speaking the words as soon as they left her mouth. All humor suddenly left the Beast to be replaced by a deep melancholy. The monster sighed before resuming.
“I… Do you remember when you told me about your supposed family curse?”
“The Earps don’t have the monopoly of curses, I have my share of them too.”
The Earp girl dropped her head, ashamed by her own assumptions. She blamed herself for hurting her friend, and bringing up painful memories.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said those stupid things. I obviously reminded you of something sad, and, well, I hate making you sad.”
“It’s alright. I want you to be able to talk to me about things without any fear of causing me pain. Without any fear, period.”
The creature took both her hands between their paws. “Beauty, you are by far the best thing that ever happened to me. One accidental remark can’t compare to all the joy you’ve brought into my life. I like to think that I’m your friend, and that you can say anything you want to me.“
“You are my friend, Beast, the best I’ve ever had. Are you sure it’s okay, that I can be totally honest with you?”
“Yes, you can.”
She took a long breath, digging deep down to find the courage to continue.
“Sometimes, I wish you would stop asking me, you know… the question. It breaks my heart to say no.”
“I know, but maybe someday, you’ll say yes by mistake.”
They both laughed heartily.
“You’re silly. I’m not saying no because of the way you look. It’s just… I think my heart already belongs to someone.”
The air seemed to thicken around them. The creature did not answer, but instead, turned their gaze away from the woman, trying their hardest to hide the tears silently falling down their furry cheeks.
Chapter 5: Dreams falling to pieces.
If Wynonna had written this chapter she would have called it "When the shit hits the fan".
Oh, it's this time of the week already. Please don't hate me for what follows. I promise, it gets better... eventually.
Also, praise my beta reader @iwaseliteonce and go read their awesome fics if you haven't yet.
“It looks like the summer's almost gone,” Nicole said.
“Do the seasons really matter in a dream?” Waverly asked lazily.
They were lying in the grass under a large willow tree, their eyes lost up amongst the branches. The smaller girl’s head rested gently on the redhead’s shoulder.
“What if they do?” Nicole asked gravely. “If so, where'll we go when winter's upon us? What if we can’t meet here anymore? What if the weather is so bad, we can’t find our way to each other, or you get too cold and-”
The young Earp placed her fingers on her friend’s lips to shush her.
“Please, Nicole, I don’t want to think about that. I don’t want you to worry about things we have no control over.”
“It's not that I want you to worry, love, more like, I can’t help myself,” she sat up slowly to face the brunette. “When I’m awake, I think about you constantly. Don’t get me wrong, I like what we have in our dreams, but I also dread the day or night when it might end. I don’t want it to end, ever. It may sound selfish, but I want you to be by my side, night and day. I want nothing more.”
Waverly felt the tears threatening to fall. If only she could explain just how much she wanted the same thing. Even still, she knew that, even if Nicole was real, she would never be able to join her, as she was the voluntary prisoner of the Beast. She had avoided this very subject for weeks, because she knew the redhead would worry herself to death, knowing she was held captive by a furry giant. These things were far too complicated to be shared in a dream, and she didn’t want anyone to be hurt for her, neither Nicole, nor the Beast. She wanted to keep her life as peaceful as possible, even if, just like her princess, she feared the moment she would stop dreaming.
“Maybe we can still find each other. You could give me your family name, or tell me where you live. Whatever the distance or the difficulty, whatever it takes. I would do anything for you, Waves. I hope you know that.”
“I’m so sorry, Nicole, but I can’t. I can’t even tell you the reason why. I just can’t.” She kissed the other girl’s cheek and started to weep in her arms.
“Please, don’t cry, babe. I know, I mean, I guessed- you have a secret. You’ve been keeping things from me all along, but hear me out, I would never ask you to tell me something against your will. If you can’t tell where I can find you, then just remember: my family name is known across many kingdoms, so it won’t be hard to find me. Whenever you’re able and willing to look, just ask about me by my name. Let people around you know you’re looking for me. I’ll be waiting, as long as it takes.”
How could anyone keep living their life the usual way after hearing such meaningful words?
Waverly woke up in the most grumpy mood she had been in in years. It had been a few months since she had come to live in the Beast’s mansion, and for the first time, she truly felt as if she was a prisoner. Not that she could complain about the conditions of her captivity, but she now fully comprehended she was not only deprived of her freedom, but also of a future; a future with Nicole. How could a mere idea make her hurt so badly?
She tried to eat breakfast. She tried to carry on her little routines and habits. She tried and tried. The Beast tried to make conversation on many occasions, but she answered absentmindedly and half-heartedly. The idea of losing Nicole kept her brain worried all day long.
At dinner, Waverly stayed mostly silent, allowing only a few polite words out to thank the monster for the numerous delicacies on the table. They both remained unusually quiet, until the girl couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself any longer.
“Beast, there's something I want to ask you, but it might sound very silly. Is that alright?”
“It’s not in my nature to make fun of you, Beauty. You can speak freely.”
“Right. I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of the Haught family?”
The giant choked on the wine they were drinking. After having cleared their throat in a very cavernous sound, they answered:
“I have indeed. Like everyone in this kingdom, I assume. The Queen that rules over this land bears that name.”
“The Queen? She does, she really does?” Waverly said with undisguised hope in her voice. A sparkle suddenly appeared in her eyes, and her voice trembled with excitement. “So, could you maybe tell me more about this family? Do you know anything about her daughter? She would be around my age, and her name-”
“Beauty,” the Beast cut her off, “I know for a fact that the Queen only has sons.”
A mortifying silence fell upon them.
“Oh.” The whole universe collapsed beneath her feet, and the girl felt like the void below was about to swallow her.
“Are you… are you absolutely sure about this?” she stuttered.
“I am,” the monster acquiesced.
Without knowing it, the poor Beast had just broken her heart; or maybe they could feel it nonetheless, because they could not watch her face in this pain-filled moment. Waverly didn’t notice, now too preoccupied with not falling into pieces.
Nicole wasn’t the Queen’s daughter. There probably was no Nicole at all. She was just a fantasy, alive only in her dreams. Her cruel imagination had made up such a delightful companion, capable of so much kindness, and worthy of so much affection. Nicole did not exist outside of her head though. Her princess wasn’t real, and yet she was quite certain she was falling in love with her.
The young woman had the unpleasant sensation her blood was now leaving her body. The paleness must have shown on her face, for the Beast inquired about her wellness. She answered that she was not feeling very well, and excused herself to her room. She was so confused, she didn’t even notice that, for the first time since their first dinner together, the Beast didn’t ask for her hand.
Her head now resting on a soft, embroidered pillow, Waverly let the tears roll down her cheeks as she cried for her own foolishness. She cried hard, until her head was no longer resting on the pillow, but atop the green grass of the garden. She wept even harder.
“Waverly, dearest. Why are you crying so hard, and so deeply?” Nicole grabbed the brunette’s head, dropping it delicately onto her lap as she began to stroke her hair. “Please tell me the reason, so I can chase your pain away. If it’s a man, I'll strike him down, if it’s a dragon, I'll pierce its heart with a spear, if it’s an army, I'll defeat it with my own two arms.”
“Nicole, my brave Nicole,” she murmured as she rose and cupped the redhead’s cheeks. “I’m afraid you can’t take my pain away this time, considering you’re the reason. I grew so fond of you that it makes me miserable. I know it’s ridiculous, because none of this is real. I know it's only a dream, but knowing I can never be with you for real…”
The taller girl encircled her with her arms, and started to rock her gently while kissing the top of her head.
“This is real, Waverly, it has to be. Life can’t be so cruel to allow me to meet you, even if in a dream, just to keep me away from you.”
“I lied. I’m just as afraid as you that one night, I’ll fall asleep and I won’t dream about you anymore. I swear I’d rather never wake up than never see your face again.”
“Oh, Waves, I hate to see you cry! Please, dry your tears. I promise that I’ll find a way to reunite us. Wherever you are, my love, I swear I will find you. One day, you’ll wake up, and I’ll be by your side.”
They held each other tightly, in a hopeless attempt to escape their disunion.
As she started to wake, she clung the sheets, as if she could have retained the dream in her palms, but, as usual, it faded away, slipping under her nails, leaving tears at the corner of her eyes. This dream was undeniably the most intense and heartbreaking she had ever had. Nicole had promised to find her, but it all sounded like a goodbye. When did her life become so dramatic? Why was she so miserable because of someone she had only met in a dream ? Was it being secluded in a near deserted mansion with a giant furry animal as her only companion that made her so in need for an imaginary love?
The day passed awfully, even more awfully than the previous one. Whatever activity Beauty chose to distract herself with that morning, she couldn’t forget the sound of Nicole’s voice breaking, nor the sight of tears rolling on her pale cheeks. The memories of last night’s dream were too overwhelming. If only she had someone, a confidant perhaps. At this point, she considered the Beast a friend, a true, faithful, caring one; and yet, she wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to them about Nicole. It was silly but somehow, she felt like she would betray them, maybe because she was well aware of the monster’s immense affection towards her. The day she mentioned her heart was already taken, she saw a sadness in the creature’s eyes she had never seen before. So, no, she couldn’t risk hurting them all over again. She surely missed Wynonna in that moment, more than she ever had since arriving in this palace. If only her sister was here, she would shake her shoulders and tickle her ribs until she smiled again. That sisterly silliness was the absolute thing she needed right now.
“Beauty, is there something bothering you? Did I do or say something that upset you? You seem unusually sad today, and it makes my heart ache to witness it,” the Beast said as they were dining.
“No, it’s not you. You did nothing wrong, Beast. It’s something else.”
“I’m glad to hear it’s not my fault, but maybe there's something I can do. If you tell me what’s on your mind, maybe I can help somehow.”
“The thing is, as much as I enjoy living here with you, I miss my sister, Wynonna, a lot. I would give anything to see her face and to hear a few of her stupid jokes again.”
The monster stayed silent for a moment, anxiously moving their mouth and hands as if they were hesitating to say something. Then, without any word of excuse, they stood and left the room. When they reappeared, they had a mysterious item rolled in purple velvet under their arm. After dropping the package delicately upon the table, they pleaded with Beauty to unwrap it without delay. Unrolling the fabric, the young woman discovered, confused, a hand mirror.
“This is one of the most precious things I own,” the Beast explained. “It will allow you to observe anyone you desire, no matter the distance between you. All you have to do is to place the mirror in front of you, and wish to see them with all your heart. Then, their face will appear in place of yours.”
Beauty clapped her hands together excitedly and threw herself at the monster, wrapping her arms around their neck to hug them. The Beast received the embrace eagerly, until Waverly stepped away and faced the monster with a concerned look.
“Beast,” she started hesitantly, “You never used it to observe me, did you?”
The beast frowned their furry face in confusion. “What? Oh, no, God, no, I would never do that. Plus, I can’t actually use it.”
Waverly giggled nervously. “I’m sorry, it’s so rude to me to assume you would. So, how come it’s so precious to you if you can’t use it?”
The creature stayed mute for a few seconds, then whispered “It just is. Let’s just say that I paid a substantial price for it.”
They said their good nights, and departed. Waverly returned to her room, impatient to try the magical hand mirror. She sat on her bed, placed it in front of her face just like the Beast had advised her, and closed her eyes to concentrate on the person she wished to have appear. When she excitedly opened an eye, she noted with amazement that the Beast hadn’t lied to her; Wynonna’s face was reflecting on the surface of the glass.
“No matter what it costs, we need to find that Beast and put it down,” the dark haired woman declared to a man sporting a fantastic mustache. She was pacing frantically in the homestead kitchen with a bottle in her right hand.
“I reckon this is what we agreed Wynonna,” the man replied, “but we do not know for sure that this ‘beast’ is not an invention of your progenitor.”
“This is exactly where we need to start,” a dark skinned man intervened. “Find Ward first, and verify his story. One of my contacts located him and your older sister in a town twenty miles west of here. Once we have him, our priority will be to get Waverly back.”
“Right. But you find him, Dolls. If I put my hands on that bastard first, I might kill him before he could lead us to the ogre. I swear if this creature exists, I’m gonna skin it alive and dismember it piece by piece...”
Waverly ran through the long corridors of the mansion, her heart pounding in her chest and her lungs burning. She arrived before the door of what she assumed to be the Beast’s apartment, and knocked her fist loudly against the wood. The door opened, allowing the gruesome figure of the creature to appear in the frame.
“Beauty, are you alright? Did you see your sister as you’d hoped?” the giant inquired.
“I’m fine, yes,” she said panting.”I saw her, but I’m honestly worried about what I saw.”
“Oh my god, Beauty. Is your sister okay? I hope she’s not sick or-”
Waverly cut them off. “No, nothing like that. My sister Wynonna is… very herself, to say the least. Right now she’s preparing an expedition to try and find this place. She’s coming here, for you, to kill you.”
She passed a stunned Beast, and entered the room. She had guessed well the first time she had explored the whole palace. The cozy chamber assuredly belonged to the creature.
“Kill me? Why?”
“She probably thinks you ate me, or killed me, or injured me. I don’t know the exact details. Last time we saw each other, my older sister Willa hit her in the head with a pan. See, she wasn’t exactly willing to let my father bring me here. Unlike the rest of my family, Wynonna's always been very protective of me. So, the idea that the monster my father described to us might've hurt me made her crazy.”
“Oh, I see. I totally understand. I’d be enraged myself if someone caused you any pain.”
Waverly smiled at the display of genuine concern.
“I know you would. You and my sister are very similar in certain aspects, so you can probably imagine how restless and vengeful she is at the moment. She hired mercenaries to help her find us, armed men. Oh, Beast, I’m so afraid of what they might do to you.”
“No, please, Beauty, don’t worry about me. I’ll find a way to stay safe, I promise.”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you,” The Beast brows furrowed to signal their incomprehension. “Beast, would you let me go to my sister? Then, I can tell her I’m fine, and that you have been nothing but kind to me, that there is no need to harm you, let alone kill you.”
The monster opened their mouth but seemed unable to produce a sound.
“Please, Beast, I’m not trying to trick you so I can escape. I’ll come back, I swear. I’ll come back to you, but I need to fix this first. Do you think I’d lie to you?”
The Beast started to pace nervously, their gaze focused on their feet, avoiding Beauty’s eyes. They suddenly stopped their pacing, and turned to the young woman as they spoke:
“I trust you, Beauty, I really do. But there is something I need to confess,” the Beast started. “I know I have no excuse for what I’ve done. I know as well that you may never forgive me for hiding the truth and that would be totally deserved…”
Waverly frowned and took a furry paw in her hands “Beast, I urge you to tell me what it is. Because right now, I’m just more scared about what it might be.”
“The thing is… “ they sighed, “you were never a prisoner here, my lady.”
“I wasn’t?” Waverly blurted in astonishment.
“No, you never were. Truth is, when you first passed through these doors, you were convinced that you and your father were under the threat of some sort of enchantment. You thought my supposed magical powers would destroy your family if none of you sacrificed themselves to me. And, well, I didn’t contradict you. I never said you were my prisoner, but I never said you weren’t either… I might have let you believe you were my captive, but it was never in my power, let alone my will, to keep you here, unless by force of course; but I would never, ever do that, Beauty. I swear, I could never hurt you.”
“But, what you told my father-”
“It was all lies. I was angry and I wanted to scare the life out of him so he wouldn’t come back to trample on my flowers with his horse shit covered boots. I thought after a few days, he would figure out I was lying. I honestly never thought I would see his bloated face again.”
The Beast took a pause.
“But then, to my great surprise, he was here, and so were you. I never expected a brute like him to have such a delicate daughter. When I saw how he treated you, how he talked to you, Beauty, I was pretty sure he forced you to come and take his place, and it made me furious. I guess I wanted to protect you from him.”
“To protect me, from my father? But why, Beast, you didn’t even know me.”
“I… I kind of felt like I did.”
“I don’t need to be protected,” she yelled, “I never asked to be, and I can make my own choices! My father never forced me to come here, it was my decision. Can’t I be the hero of the story for once?”
Then, infuriated, she disappeared. The Beast groaned, and slid miserably along the wall, sinking to the floor as they dug their head into their woolly palms.
They had ruined everything.
Chapter 6: One reunion and two adieus.
The Beast makes a gift to Waverly that will allow her to come back home.
This is my favorite chapter, my friends, I hope you're gonna like it too. It's also the penultimate, so in one little week you'll have all the answers (and maybe a happy ending). Have a good one!
p.s: An enormous "thank you" to my beta-reader, @iwaseliteonce. More a sensei than a beta, really. Seriously folks, go read their fics if you haven't yet!
The young Earp heard three knocks on the door. She was startled by the noise. Despite knowing it was the Beast knocking, it was the first time they were presenting themselves at this very door since the day they showed her to the room. They always had the most perfect respect for her intimacy, letting her have her personal space in their house.
“Beauty, can I talk to you for a minute? Please.” She heard through the wood. She walked to the door and opened it. The Beast was standing awkwardly, head down and eyes on the floor, waiting for an invitation to enter.
“What do you want? I’m packing. I can’t stay here, not even one more night.”
The monster held their paws in front of them submissively.
“I’m not going to try and stop you, I swear. I just wanted to apologize to you again. I’ve been awfully selfish and cruel and… Well, it’s unforgivable. Still, I know I’d do it again.”
Waverly’s eyes widened as she cast the monster her best how dare you? look.
“I don’t regret it, because regretting it would mean regretting all the time we spent together. I would never take any of that back. I cherish every single moment I spent with you. You have every right to hate me-”
“Stop it, I don’t hate you. How could I, when the past few weeks have been the happiest of my life? I’m just angry right now, because you took my choice away. I probably would have stayed, you know, once I started to get to know you. But you didn’t trust me enough to make that decision. Instead, you lied to me.”
“I… I never thought about it that way.”
“You know what hurts the most? I trusted you, Beast, and you didn’t trust me back.”
The creature gaped at her, completely stunned for a minute or so, then shook their head. “I’m so sorry. I made a terrible mistake. Though, I know I only did it because I love you.”
They approached slowly and sat on the edge of the bed. “I brought something for you.” They reached into the side pocket of their vest and revealed a small golden ring.
“I thought we already had this discussion, Beast.”
The monster looked curiously at their own palm.
“Oh. No, Beauty, it’s not that kind of ring. This is a magical one, just like the mirror I gave you earlier. I know you want to leave as soon as possible, and, even if it breaks my heart to see you leave, I won’t force you to stay. This will allow to rejoin your sister or… whomever you desire, without the dangers or exhaustion of a long journey. I know you’re stubborn enough to want to cross the forest at night, but I care about you too much to let you do that. With this ring, you’ll wake up in your old room, as if you never left it. All you have to do is go to bed wearing it on your finger. Before falling asleep, you have to turn it, so the stone is on the inside of your hand, and think about the place you wish to go.”
Waverly examined the object carefully. Of course, this ring seemed very ordinary, but she knew her host well enough to know that the jewel would have the exact power they said it possessed. It was a powerful artifact, and an even more meaningful gift. She contemplated her friend’s face, how miserable and vulnerable they looked.
“It’s not fair,” she sighed, “I can’t even stay mad at you for an hour. No one’s ever cared for me like this.”
“I do care about you, so much. And I’d rather know you’re happy far away from here, away from me, than to see you here and miserable.” The creature took her right hand in their paws.
“Just know that I’ll never forget you, Beauty, and I’ll love you till the day I die.”
Waverly gazed at the furry giant, seeming to recall in this very minute all the delightful moments they had shared. She laid her free hand on their upper arm.
“No need to be so dramatic, Beast, I won’t leave you forever. I’ll come back eventually.”
“No, please don’t. You don’t have to do that. You have a wonderful life waiting for you outside these walls. One full of laughter, music, and dancing. You’re so lively, Beauty, and so smart. Don’t waste your youth trapped in a cage. There’s so much of the world, so many marvelous places, still left for you to discover. There’s so much adventure ahead of you.” The Beast paused before resuming.
“There are also people for you to meet, attractive people, whose embrace will make you dream of lifelong romance, or maybe only a few kisses in the moonlight. Show them what an extraordinary person you are inside. You have to be loved you for who you really are, not just your charm or looks. Please, don’t settle for less. That, all that, is what you truly deserve. So, just promise me you won’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”
A single tear rolled on the young woman’s cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand and murmured “I promise. Thank you.”
The Beast only nodded sadly, “You’re welcome, Beauty. Adieu.” They stood up, glanced at her with all the affection in the world and made their way to the door.
“Beast, wait. One last thing. I was wondering, how come you never called me by my real name?” the girl asked, sniffling a little. The creature’s eyes widened.
“I guess it’s because you never told me what it was.”
“Oh. Yes, silly me. It’s Waverly, Waverly Earp.”
At these words, the monster stilled. Waverly could have sworn she saw their fur-covered face pale as they muttered her first name. After a few moments, the Beast straightened up and smiled weakly. They said simply:
“Right. Then, adieu, my Waverly,” before leaving the room.
The Beast hadn’t lied. The next morning, she woke up in her own little bed within the homestead. She didn’t remember the mattress being so lumpy, or the covers so itchy though. She wiggled inside the sheets, trying to find a soft place to lay. God, this thing was as comfortable as a stinging nettle bush now.
From the weak daylight piercing through the small window she could tell the morning was still young. She rose from the bed, and started to wander around the room, only to find out it was all exactly the way she left it. Had the furniture always been so tiny and crooked? She was stunned by how ridiculously small her collection of books on the shelf seemed to be, in comparison to the marvel of the Beast’s library. But, it was home. She was home.
Why didn’t it feel like it?
The door suddenly burst open, revealing a mostly disheveled Wynonna, still in her nightgown, brandishing a wooden stool above her head. Waverly turned to face her, and chuckled at the look of bewilderment on her sister’s face, mouth agape and eyebrows practically touching her hairline.
“Baby girl, you’re alive!” Wynonna yelled as she dropped the stool and threw herself at her sister, enveloping her in her arms.
“Well, I am now, but I won’t be for long if you keep squeezing me so tight,” Waverly scoffed.
“Oh my god, I thought the ogre had eaten you or something.” She pulled back and considered the younger girl, patting her shoulders and stroking her cheeks, as if to convince herself Waverly wasn’t an apparition.
“Shit, you really are alive. And you look… good, well-nourished even.” She hugged her sister once more, letting an errant sob escape.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry, no harm done. I’ve been treated very well.”
“But the monster?”
“They’re surely more human than most people, definitely more than our father. Despite their appearance, they’re the sweetest being I’ve ever known.”
“They kept you prisoner though.”
“They didn’t really keep me captive, they just wanted to keep me safe and away from Ward.”
At these words, Waverly realized all of her anger towards her friend had completely vanished.
“Wow. You should introduce me to them some time, because we sure have stuff in common. Speaking of, Dad won’t bother you anymore, and neither will Willa.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Oh. Long story short? When that bastard came back home without you, I was so mad I could’ve killed him right away. Or at least I tried to, technically. I shot him in the ass with his own carbine. Tied Willa to a chair so she couldn’t knock me out with a pan again. You can never be too careful with that bitch,” she said, scratching the back of her head and wincing at the memory of the pain.
“So, Ward survived the butt blasting, but once he saw me in full big-sister-revenge mode, he totally shit his pants at the thought of coming back to the homestead. He stayed in town a couple days, probably to wait for me to calm down. Willa joined him as soon as I let her go- what a surprise. Given the amount of gold they spent, rumor spread that he sold you to some cannibalistic butcher.”
The youngest raised an eyebrow in confusion.
”Well, I maybe had something to do with the gossip part but, back then, I thought he actually had. I mean, how else can you explain all the money?”
“Knowing him, I’d guess he robbed the Beast when he left. You know, took one or two golden chandeliers under his cloak.”
“Very classy of him.”
“So, you know how most of the folks in town like you? I mean they elected you the nicest person in Purgatory and all.”
“I remember. I got a sash.”
“A few people weren’t too happy with what he allegedly had done to you, and when I say a few people, I mean literally the whole town. At some point, I even saw toddlers throwing rocks at him,” she snorted. ”You should have seen it, Purgatory’s angry mob threatened him with pitchforks and torches! He had no other choice but to hightail it out of town. Willa followed him, as usual. Haven’t seen ‘em since.”
“So it’s just the two of us?”, Waverly asked.
“Hasn’t it always been like this, baby girl? We is the team, remember?” Wynonna smiled. “Might have added a few to the crew though. I couldn’t stay here doing nothing while my little sister was god knows where, maybe hurt or worse. So, I recruited sorta bounty hunters to help me track you down, and to hunt that beast. You’ll meet Doc and Dolls soon enough.” She exhaled loudly “God, baby sis, I was so scared you were hurt or...”
Waverly slid her arm around her sister’s shoulders.“Hey, I’m here now. And I’m fine, promise.”
They caught up over the next few hours. Waverly recounted how Ward had cowardly left her to an unknown fate, and how the Beast had welcomed her in the best conceivable way. She told her all about how her fear of the creature had quickly turned to a solid affection and the best friendship she ever had. She purposely omitted certain details, like how the Beast proposed to her every night, for she knew her sister and her over-protectiveness would not appreciate it. Plus, those moments, as awkward as they might appear from the outside, were theirs and theirs alone.
They ate a small supper together, and went to bed early, exhausted from all the excitement of their reunion. Waverly made her way to her old room, but even if it was painful to admit, the space lacked the warmth of the kind of places usually called home. She pushed the feeling away, blaming it on her long absence. She slid beneath the covers and rapidly fell into a long, restful but alas, dreamless sleep.
“No, not yet,” she murmured in her pillow when she felt her body slowly waking up. It had been two nights since she last dreamed of Nicole. While perfectly logical during the night she had spent magical-ring-traveling, there was certainly no reason why she had not seen her in her dreams this time. Stupid brain.
After four days, and above all, four nights without dreaming of Nicole, Waverly’s mood declined drastically. She would occasionally banter and have fun with her sibling, but her smile no longer grazed her ears. Wynonna didn’t say anything at first, blaming it on readjustment and a change of scenery.
On the evening that the dark haired woman caught a glimpse of her sister sitting by the window, absently looking through the glass while seeming more like she was looking through the void, she finally spoke:
“Waves, why do I feel like you haven’t told me everything about your time in the woods?”
“What do you mean?” Waverly asked.
“I mean, since you came back, you seem a little bit… off. Like a part of you is happy to be here, but a part of you is sad, desperate almost, and would rather be somewhere else. You look like, I don’t know, like you miss something, or someone.”
Waverly sighed. Of course her internal struggles were that obvious. How could explain it, all of it, to her sister though? It sounded so ridiculous in her own head, her sibling would mock her nonsense endlessly at the very idea. Still she needed to finally let the secret out, for its burden had grown too heavy to contain for even a moment longer. She took a long breath before blurting:
“I think I might have fallen in love with my imaginary friend.”
“Wow. Isolation didn’t do you any favors, baby girl,” her sister giggled. “No, seriously, you can talk to me.”
“I WAS being serious, Wynonna.”
“Oh. Sorry, baby girl. I… I thought you were kidding. It’s… unusual, even for you. Maybe you just need to go out a little, yeah? How ‘bout I take you to Shorty’s tavern tonight? I’m sure Doc will warm your heart with his stories, and I know a farm boy or two that are head over heels for you.”
The younger woman buried her face between her crossed arms and groaned.
“I don’t want a farm boy, I want Nicole,” she said in a muffled voice.
“Did you just call your imaginary boyfriend Nicole?“ Wynonna cackled, “That’s weird.”
Waverly lifted her head and gave the older girl a mean look.
“Shit! Nicole is a girl, isn’t she? Wait, come on, don’t be mad. How was I supposed to guess that if you were holding out on me, huh? So, what’s she like, your imaginary girlfriend? Is she hot? I bet she is.”
“You don’t mind?” Waverly asked, surprised.
“What? That she’s a girl? The hell I do. Boy or girl, imaginary or not, makes no difference to me, baby girl. I’ll still have to kick their ass if they ever hurt you.”
Waverly laughed genuinely and grabbed her big sister’s shoulders to hug her. Then she started to tell her everything about the dreams she’d had from the moment she arrived at the Beast’s mansion, and how a certain redhead had stolen her heart.
It was a couple of weeks after Waverly returned to the family homestead, that she realized just how bored she was. At first, she had simply enjoyed catching up with Wynonna, and that was enough. But after a few days she discovered that her sister had finally made a life in Purgatory, a life full of friends, and she was no longer the centerpiece of it. The family home seemed so small now, so narrow, and she had so few ways to occupy herself. Wynonna had left the farm to join Doc and Dolls at Shorty’s tavern, and Waverly had used a headache as an excuse to stay at home. She couldn’t find it in her heart to spend an evening with the reckless troop. She clearly wasn’t in the mood for being surrounded with Purgatory’s overly intoxicated residents.
While she was happy to be reunited with her sister, the truth was, she missed her life in the castle, she missed spending time with the Beast. Above all else, she desperately missed Nicole.
What was wrong with her? How could she be so… enamored with a fantasy. Nicole was a woman, and an imaginary one for god’s sake. Still, what her reason was screaming, her heart couldn’t hear. If only she could close her eyes and stay forever in the delusion her vivid imagination had surely created.
She dreamed that night, she dreamed but it was not as pleasant as she’d hoped.
She was in the garden, her beloved garden, but a strange atmosphere of desolation seemed to wrap around everything. All was silent and gray, like the world was beginning to fade out. She recognized the area, this was the very first place she had met her princess in men’s clothes. She called Nicole’s name a few times, but received no answer. Then, she saw someone leaning against a tree, a very pale figure with red hair. She called again, and hurried towards them. As she ran to the trunk, she realized the shape she had first seen had begun to morph into something bigger, much bigger. The frame was now far too large to be Nicole’s.
“Beast?” she asked.
The monster turned their head in her direction, all without seeming to actually see her. Their gaze looked full of nothing but an infinite sadness, as if her gentle giant was blinded by despair. She stretched her arm to stroke their face like she had so many times before, but she couldn’t make contact. She couldn’t reach their face, it was almost as if her arm was too short to attain it. She couldn’t comfort them, she could only witness their sorrow. It was all so frustrating and heartbreaking that she started to weep in her sleep, so much that her own lamenting woke her up.
She wiped the tears away from her cheeks. The dream had totally wrecked her. Even now, awake, she could still see the grief on the Beast’s face, and feel their infinite pain. She missed her dear friend, and was now worried sick something bad may have happened to them during her absence. She got up, and tiptoed through the darkness of the room to retrieve the package she had brought with her from the mansion. She quickly unwrapped the hand mirror, and placed it in front of her eyes. A furry face soon appeared on the mirror’s all-knowing glass. An awful, appalling view, to say the least. The Beast was laying on their side, their forehead leaning on their paw, their breathing weak and ragged. On the dirty soil of what seemed to be a cave, the name Waverly had been scratched by claws.
The Beast was dying. From the loss of their Beauty, the Beast was agonizing. She must have a cruel and selfish soul, for the creature had offered her their unconditional affection, and she abandoned them to their loneliness. The guilt she felt at this moment was nearly unbearable, and yet, she still sensed that there was something more, something just beyond her knowledge.
“No, no, no, no. Don’t die, please don’t die. I’ll die, too, if you do.”
But alas, the Beast couldn’t hear her pleas.
Chapter 7: Two become one.
Waverly uses the hand mirror to go back to the Beast's mansion, hoping to save them.
This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end...
Thanks to everyone who read, left kudos and commented, I really appreciate it. I hope you'll like how it ends. If you want to reach me on Twitter, my handle is @wino_earp. Have a good one.
Until next time!
p.s: I could never thank my beta @iwaseliteonce enough for all the work they've done on this fic. Go read their fics, people!
Waverly let the hand mirror fall into her lap, terrified by what she had just seen. It couldn’t be real, and yet, she knew it was. Let’s face the facts- the poor Beast was deeply in love with her, so it was no surprise that her departure had caused them to give up on life. The mere thought of losing them for good was nothing short of unbearable. She felt nauseous. Her throat tightened to the point of choking. She had to go back to them, and make sure they were safe. There was no way she could let them down now, not after all the care and devotion they had showed her. She couldn’t be a kind of ungrateful witch in their hour of need. It wasn’t only guilt though; the Beast was her friend, and she cared about them more than she had first thought.
The decision was made quickly. She rose up, put on some warm clothes, and returned to her bed with the ring on her finger, which she turned in the position she knew would take her away from the homestead.
She woke up already dressed in her room in the Beast’s mansion, and let out a relieved sigh. Through the curtains, she could see the sky was still very dark. Only a few hours must have passed since she last saw the poor creature agonizing within the reflection of the mirror. She’d better find them fast.
The young Earp hopped off the bed, and ran to the door. As fast as she could, she crossed the corridor, and called for her friend. Her yelling found no answer. She hastily lit a candle, and hurried to the main door. If her vision had been true, the Beast must be lying somewhere outside the domain. She continued her dash, moving past the now abandoned glasshouse, until her feet led her to an end of the garden she had never seen before.
Waverly recognized the entrance of the cave, and rushed into it. The scene was identical to what she had seen in the mirror, as if it had all happened mere moments ago. The Beast was still lying on a bench, their long limbs hanging at their sides. They seemed lifeless. The young woman felt her heart pounding achingly within her chest, the awful sound of it spitting blood through her veins echoing in her ear-drums.
“Please, please, don’t be dead,” she pleaded.
She laid her head against the creature’s torso, and heard the weak beating of their heart. In a hurry, she ran back outside the cavern, and came back with some water from the nearby fountain in her cupped hands. As she threw the water at the monster’s face, they jolted, and slowly opened their eyes.
“Waverly,” the Beast said in surprise. “You came back.”
“Of course I did. You thought I would abandon you? I missed you too much. I can’t believe what awful shape you’re in after just a few weeks. You were going to let yourself die, weren’t you?”
“I missed you too much, too,” they said in a murmur.
“Well, that’s a stupid reason to let yourself wither away. Don’t ever do that to me again, you hear me? I can’t lose you. You’re my best friend in the world. What would I do without you? Stand up, come have supper with me.”
She helped them rise and walk back to the mansion, her small frame sustaining their gigantic one as best as she could.
The dining room was no longer the warm place where she used to linger, for there was no log burning in the fireplace, nor any candles lit in the chandeliers. The room looked as if it had been deserted for years. For the first time, she witnessed the long table empty of the dishes she had come to expect to find at every hour of every day. After helping the Beast to sit in a comfortable chair by the fireplace, she made a fire to warm them. Then, she ran to where she knew the kitchen was to assemble something reasonable for the giant to eat.
She made sure the colossus fed themselves sufficiently, and that they drank plenty too. Only a few words were exchanged, for they were both exhausted by the events of the evening.
When the Beast stood and attempted to say a quiet goodnight, Waverly stopped them in their tracks.
“Wait!” she squealed. “You… haven’t asked me.”
The Beast gave her a confused look, then shook their head, and sighed wistfully. “Waverly, I…”
“Please,” she resumed. “Ask me.”
The Beast looked deeply into her hazel eyes, trying to find a reason not to speak the words. Then, with a newfound sparkle of hope in their eyes, they asked:
“Beauty, will you be my wife?”
“Yes. Yes, I will.”
At those words, she threw herself against their chest to hug them tightly. The Beast closed their eyes and let their chin rest on the top of Waverly’s head as they stroke her hair delicately with their grotesquely clawed hand. They stayed entwined this way for what seemed an eternity, until finally, the Beast pulled back, and laid the lightest kiss on the young woman’s cheek.
“I need rest, but you’ll see me tomorrow, my love. You saved me today. Oh God, Waverly, you’ve saved me in so many ways…”
They kissed her again, this time on her forehead, and left the room.
Waverly found her way to the room she had occupied, and allowed a delicious feeling of comfort to invade her. She sat on the edge of the bed, taking some quiet time to contemplate her surroundings. Everything was in the same place she had left it, it felt familiar and reassuring, like… home. She laid down further on the bed, and pulled a quilt over her cool skin. It was a good thing that she liked the place after all, because she was going to stay here, permanently.
She could still feel her heart beating erratically inside her chest. It had all happened so fast. She used to regard herself as a planner, but tonight, she had made a major life decision in the blink of an eye. Was it crazy to be engaged to an inhuman creature? Her sister Willa would surely mock her decision, but right now, she couldn’t care less. It felt right. She was going to marry someone with whom she wanted to spend her life with, someone who really saw her, and understood her like no one else; someone who certainly deserved all the love and affection in the world. The rest was all minor details.
She pulled another cover on her body and let herself slip into sleep for the third time that evening.
Even while sleeping in her old bed that night, she didn’t dream of Nicole. Not that she didn’t try. She actually briefly dreamed that she was in the garden, following the river bank to where they had met for the first time. She wanted to tell her princess that there was no need to worry anymore, she was going to be happy, here in this palace, and maybe if they were lucky enough, they would catch sight of each other in a dream from time to time. She knew it was silly, because Nicole was only an illusion, a product of her imagination, but she needed to see her face one last time. Was it too much to ask to her stupid brain for one final goodbye to her sweetest dream? Still, Nicole was nowhere to be found. It was so unfair. She searched and called for what seemed to be hours, so long that, in the morning, she awoke with tears of frustration in the corners of her eyes.
As she was lying in her bed, lazily rubbing her eyes, she was startled by the sound of breathing that wasn’t hers. She sat up very suddenly, only to behold a sleeping form on the blue couch beside her bed. Perceiving a mass of red hair, her heart started to beat at a frenetic pace in her chest. She jumped out of the bed to join the unconscious body a few meters from her.
“Nicole! Is that you?” She brushed the red hair from the still sleeping face.
“Oh Lord, it’s you, it really is! You are real. You. Are. Real.” As the brunette kept caressing her cheek, the dozing face started to animate.
“Nicole, how are you here?”
“Mmm, couldn’t sleep. I was afraid all this wasn’t real, that you wouldn’t be here in the morning. So, I came to catch a glimpse of you, and reassure myself I hadn’t imagined it. Guess I finally fell asleep.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I meant, how are you here? How are you real? You weren’t supposed to be real!” She hit the redhead’s shoulder hard.
“I thought you were just a part of my dreams, but here you are, just when I can’t be with you, just when I gave my heart to someone else, and can’t take it back. I’m engaged Nicole. I’m going to marry the Beast. I’m so, so sorry Nicole, I betrayed you. I… I’m a cheater.”
The taller girl took the brunette’s hands in hers.
“Waverly, calm down a minute, would you? It’s all gonna be fine, I promise. I am, I mean, I was that Beast you promised to marry.”
Waverly’s eyes widened madly, but her mouth couldn’t produce a sound.
“See, there is no betrayal. You don’t have to hurt anyone, because it’s me. It’s just you and me.”
Waverly considered the other girl for a moment, and noticed she was wearing the Beast’s clothes, which obviously were far too large for her feminine frame, and let show some of her cleavage. She couldn’t deny she liked what she was seeing, very much so actually. She traced the redhead’s features with a light brushing of her fingers, then she looked deeply into her eyes.
It was the truth. How could she not have realized before now how perfectly similar the infinite sweetness in Nicole and her beloved Beast’s gaze? Of course they were the same person, the qualities that made her fall with one were exactly the same ones she was fond of in the other.
“Is that a question? If it is, then yes, we are. Unless you've changed your mind-”
“Can I kiss you?”
The redheaded woman smiled and nodded. She leaned towards the brunette and cupped her left cheek. She seemed to take a few seconds to commit the moment to memory. Their lips grazed together lightly, until they joined for good, and good it certainly was. It was tender and sweet and better than anything Waverly could have imagined. She could feel her head becoming dizzy, but a good kind of dizzy.
After a few long moments, they had to part to catch their respective breaths.
“I might be the luckiest girl in the world,” the brunette said in a dreamily voice.
“Is that so?” Nicole questioned.
“Yes, because I’m going to marry my best friend and the girl of my dreams on the same day.”
A huge grin crept across the redhead’s face as she stared at the other girl in complete adoration.
The sound of a dozen horses galloping toward the mansion suddenly ended their exchange. Through the window, they could see knights brandishing blue banners in the wind, followed by a bright white carriage.
“It’s Mother!” Nicole exclaimed as she took Waverly’s hand in hers, and guided her outside to welcome the visitors.
The horses stopped in a cloud of dust. A valet ran to open the door of the coach, and a very elegant middle-aged woman stepped out of the opened door. By the crown on her head, Waverly concluded she was royalty. Nicole bowed, and so did her fiancée. The older woman walked towards them and enveloped the redhead in her arms.
“Nicole, my child,” the woman said, “I came as soon as our enchantress, Gretta, learned you were finally free from that awful spell.”
“Mother, allow me to introduce you to my savior and my one true love, Waverly Earp.”
Even as she tried to hide it, Waverly could see the Queen’s lips turn into a grimace. She stretched her hand to the brunette who took it, and curtsied elegantly.
“She offered me her friendship, then her love, even when I was still a prisoner to that monstrous form,” Nicole continued. “It’s only by accepting to marry me that the spell was broken. I reckon we need your blessing to formalize our engagement.”
“I’m afraid this is quite impossible, Nicole. There has never been a marriage of this kind in our kingdom. A girl has never wed another girl, it is against our laws.”
“So, I guess it’s a good thing that you’re the Queen, and you make the laws.” Nicole retorted.
Even at a few feet’s distance, she could hear her mother grind her teeth.
“Mother, you know in your heart I was never going to marry a man. Plus, I’m the youngest. I’m not meant to rule, so why would it matter if I marry for love?”
“It’s not that simple, my dear child-”
“Isn’t it though? Don’t you think I’ve suffered enough? I deserve to be happy, Mother, and the only way for me to be happy, is by getting to spend my life beside this woman,” she turned to Waverly, “for as long as she wants me.”
“I can’t imagine wanting anything else,” the young Earp said as she squeezed her hand gently.
In this instant, Nicole looked at her with even more heart-shaped eyes on display than before.
“Me neither, and I swear I’d rather be changed back into a monster, than to spend my life without you.”
The Queen sighed.
“Fine,” she said, “As infuriating as this is, I’ve never able to refuse you anything since the moment you were born. I’m not entirely certain even my royal power could separate such a powerful bond, so I shall give you my blessing. Tomorrow, I will proclaim a new law allowing people of the same sex to marry. I have no doubt the kingdoms around are going to find this very… progressive. I suppose we can start the celebration of this unconventional union, which will take place here in a few days. Do you have any more requests, young ones?”
Waverly bowed to the Queen once again.
“I can’t think of any words strong enough to thank you. But I do have one more request; it’s for my sister, Wynonna, to attend the ceremony.”
“Granted,” the Queen said, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, royal affairs require me,” she winked, “I appear to have my daughter’s wedding to plan.”
When the Queen, followed by a troop of servants storming all around her, entered the house, Nicole intertwined her fingers with Waverly’s, and led her in the direction of the garden. As soon as they were hidden from sight, she leaned in to resume their morning kisses.
“I can’t believe this is real,” the Earp said panting.
“I promise you, it is,” the taller girl replied.
“But how? I still don’t understand how you’re here,” she moved her hands between them to point to Nicole, “you know, in this form.”
The redhead took her hands in hers, and plead her to sit on the little stone wall behind them. She inspired a long breath before opening her mouth.
“Let me tell you of my long misfortune, and how I came to find myself under the form you first saw. I don’t think I’m wrong to assume you started to dream of me, in this human form, once you came to live here with me. Well, after your father, in his great cowardice, made you take his place here. This part of the story is quite different for me. I certainly dreamed of you, like you dreamed of me, but many years ago.”
Waverly furrowed her brow.
“You met a younger, more care-free version of me in your mind. That's the way I used to be, before a bitter spell was cast on me. From the moment we met in our dreams, Waverly, I‘ve loved you dearly. I’ve had no greater desire than to find you in the real life, and to keep the promise I made to you the last time we saw each other in the garden. While it was days ago for you, it has been years for me.“ Nicole paused in her telling, as if the words to follow were too painful to expel.
”When you stopped appearing in my sleep, I searched everywhere for you. I never doubted your existence, but since you would only appear to me in my dreams, I thought magic would be the key to finding you in the real world. So, I studied magical artifacts, traded riches without a thought, all in hopes of being guided to you. I devoted all my time and gold to my endeavor. I finally came up with a plan that felt like it could accomplish the miracle of us. Alas, what I thought would be the end of all my torments, was actually the beginning of them.”
She made another brief pause.
“Only two items would have been enough to accomplish my design. Those objects are the hand mirror and ring I gave to you. I would have used the first one to find out in which part of the world you lived, and the latter to transport me there in an instant.”
“My clever princess,” Waverly murmured as she caressed her cheek, “At what price did you find these objects?”
“I made a deal with a sorceress, whom some call the Stone Witch. She agreed to give me the artifacts with the condition that I'd owe her a favor, which she would keep secret until the exchange was done. I was in such despair, I accepted the deal. It was a really stupid decision. She didn’t want my wealth, she only wanted the power of my last name. As soon as the items were in my possession, she ordered me to marry one of her demonic sons, which I refused. I begged her to accept my fortune instead of an alliance. She took my refusal as an affront, certain that my decision was driven by pride, when it was really driven by my love for you. She felt nothing but rage and showed me her greatest wrath, it was as if her whole body could cast thunder. And in a horrendous voice I’ll never forget, she pronounced the words that would imprisoned me in a monstrous form for years:
Since you think you are too handsome to marry under your rank, you should now appear horrible. Your shape will resemble more an animal than a human; so appalling to anyone beholding you that ‘Beast’ will be the only name you will dare to bear. You shall remain in this state until someone, whose beauty equals virtue, grows enough affection for you to consent to marry you. As no one shall discover your true identity, your person and your location will remain invisible to those who made your acquaintance before. And so you will taste the true price of solitude and isolation. How much then you will regret not to have accepted my offer.
I managed to take the artifacts with me, only to find out they were rendered useless to me, since I couldn’t practice magic of any sort as the Beast.”
“My poor Nicole, you’ve suffered so much for me!” Waverly said with a sob.
“And I'd suffer it a thousand times if it meant getting to be with you in the end.” She led the brunette’s hand to her lips and delicately kissed her knuckles.
“After the Stone Witch condemned me to a life of solitude, I thought about ending my life, but I didn’t want to break the promise I made to you. See, Beauty, it was the memory of you that kept me alive. I spent months wandering aimlessly, mourning and lamenting like a ghost, praying that I find a way to bring you back to me, even if only in a dream. I decided to settle here, at my father’s old hunting pavilion, which was left abandoned by my family after his death. I was resolved to spending the rest of my days this way, hidden from the world, alone with my memories of you. Until, one day, you were here.”
A huge smile appeared on the young Earp’s face.
“At first, I thought I’d gone mad. I wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination conjuring a mirage. Of course, my heart recognized you instantly, but my mind couldn’t process it, and I was too conscious of my appearance. I didn’t even know if you'd had the same dreams, or if we’d met, or if it was all one-sided, but I couldn’t risk letting you know what I'd become. So, I did my best not to mention anything we talked about in our dreams, or give you a hint of who I was. Just before you left, you told me your real name was Waverly, and somehow it confirmed what my mind wouldn’t admit- you were my Waverly.”
The smaller woman blushed at the sound of the pronoun preceding her name.
”When you left to rejoin your sister, I was certain you’d never come back. It was all too much, losing you a second time.” Her voice broke, and tears started to fall down her pale cheeks.
“I’d found you, or rather, you found me; but in horrendous shape, and despite all my good intentions, I broke my promise. All hope was lost, so I resigned to letting myself starve to death. I had no reason to live anymore, because living was even more painful now that I knew how wonderful it is to live with you. I knew we couldn’t be together again, you told me yourself that your heart was already taken…”
Waverly took her face in her palms, and lifted it to guide her eyes in hers.
“It was by you, Nicole, always by you. I didn’t know someone could fall in love in their dreams, until I did. My heart was torn in two, because common sense was telling me you couldn’t possibly be real, but you are, and it’s more wonderful than any dream.”
“So, you still want to marry me?”
“I do. I want to marry you, and live with you, happily ever after.”