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how cruel, how profoundly tender

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Clara’s daemon settles wrong and Tommy never lets her forget it.

Tommy’s daemon settles early, before Clara’s even, despite his mere ten years of age. His is a raccoon he has named Lance. Hers hasn’t stopped changing, more rapidly ever since her parents died.

This phenomenon isn’t uncommon for children who experience trauma and loss the way she has. She’s older than him, after all, and has a better memory of their parents that she thinks Tommy resents because he was too young to remember them as anything but faces in a painting.

No matter her form, Clara has never referred to her daemon as anything but Snow Fairy.

Clara’s sixteen now, and she’s getting worried. She knows she will have to be married soon, and what man wants a woman who’s daemon is still settling? She wants to marry for love, but she isn’t a man, so all of her Grandfather’s possessions will go to Tommy and she will be left with nothing.

Her daemon is a different creature entirely now, she knows, and the strange thing is that she doesn’t even remember it happening. Most children do. But she only falls asleep on the couch one night and when she awakens, her daemon is beside her on her pillow. Fully settled. Beautiful. It’s early morning and so she knows not to be too loud, and so Clara whispers “Snow Fairy?”

And her daemon nods. “It’s me, Clara. Look, I can fly!”

She supposes she should feel ashamed but all she can feel is relief.

Still, she heads down to the kitchen for breakfast with Snow Fairy hiding in her cupped hands. She waits as the tea cools quietly and as her brother nibbles on seeded bread, before ripping out the stitches and opening her hands. Snow Fairy lands right on her Grandfather’s teaspoon. Tommy chokes on his food laughing and pointing at Snow Fairy until Grandfather shoots him an icy glare.

She expects her Grandfather to be disappointed, as she often feels he is with her, but he actually smiles. He reaches out and her daemon lets him stroke her wings, making a soft sound like bells. “She reminds me of you and Tommy as babes. But with wings, obviously. A unique daemon for my unique granddaughter. I’m glad for you, Clara.”

Her Grandfather’s daemon, Lucky, a large guard dog who had grown as old as his master despite being named in his youth barked cheerfully at his new companion whilst Snow Fairy flitted around Lucky’s head playfully. It was the most energy Clara had ever seen either of them retain.

“Thank you,” Clara steels herself before she voices her question. “Grandfather, if you know, what were our mother and father’s daemons?”

Her Grandfather doesn’t like discussing her parents, but he must be in a good mood because he hasn’t stopped smiling yet. “Your mother’s daemon was a red squirrel. It befitted her, really, always rushing around making sure everyone was well fed and cared for, so much so that she didn’t take care of herself. I’m sorry, dear girl, I’m afraid I forget your father’s.”

“I can answer that,” Aunt Drosselmayer says from the doorway. Her daemon, an owl with soft brown feathers, perches herself on Clara’s shoulder. “Your father’s daemon was a white owl, almost identical to my own apart from the colour. I think, at first, he was bothered we had similar daemons because everyone already assumed they could identify us by the virtue of being twins.”

“And then what happened?” Tommy asks, eagerly, whilst Lance steals an apple from the middle of the table and bites into it.

Aunt Drosselmayer sighs, reminiscing.“Our daemons flew together, and I suppose, so did we.”

Erik’s daemon, she later learns, is a woodpecker named Charles. Given that his current form was made of wood, Clara wonders if this was another part of the Mouse King’s cruelty; seeing if the daemon would become desperate enough to kill him.

Luckily for her, Charles never does.

After everything, Clara considers that the reason Snow Fairy may have settled like this is because of the magic in her bones. The Sugar Plum Princess cannot have a normal daemon, she supposes, but then she decides she doesn’t care. What matters is that she is here, alive, and the Mouse King is not.

When Charles flies in behind Aunt Drosselmayer’s friend, Clara knows he’s found her again and let’s Snow Fairy sprinkle snow upon their heads whilst they dance.

-:-

Penelope is a blessing for Rapunzel.

My daemon cannot abandon me, Rapunzel knows, even though my parents did. She finds this fact extremely comforting for nights when she feels desperately alone, even if Gothel uses it to taunt her and make her behave.

To Rapunzel’s immense relief, Gothel’s dragon, Hugo, takes Penelope under his wing and protects her from Gothel’s wrath. He treats her like a daughter even though she is afraid of heights. Privately, Rapunzel thinks he feels quite honoured to have a daemon modelled on him.

“It’s not fair,” Penelope half yells in the kitchen when Gothel spills hot tea down Rapunzel’s newly sewn gown because she hadn’t approved of the colour. “She shouldn’t treat us like this, Rapunzel!”

“You are a dragon,” Rapunzel says and looks to the crumbling ceiling to ensure Gothel or Otto won’t see her cry. “But I’m weak. I should be able to withstand heat.”

“You’re only human,” Hobie says. He’s been separated from his human for a long time and Rapunzel sometimes dreams of the poor man in agony, unable to move because the barrier Gothel erected separates them eternally. “You’re allowed to be angry, you know that, don’t you? Gothel puts you down enough, you don’t need to do it yourself.”

“Gothel is all I have,” Rapunzel says and mops down her dress. She would change, but it would be a waste of time. The green of the dress had reminded her of the colour of Gothel’s magic, and Rapunzel thought she would like it. “Without her, I’m nothing.”

“That isn’t true!” Penelope says. “You will always have us, Rapunzel. Til death do us part and all that.”

She tries to believe them. She really, really does.

Rapunzel has rituals and hopes. She has to. She makes bargains with herself. If she gets up earlier, she might glimpse a world beyond the barrier. If she cooks breakfast just right, Gothel might smile truthfully. If she scrubs the floors enough times, her parents will come home to her and save her.

The painting helps, when all else fails. She paints what she imagines her parents to look like, she paints the home she was born in, a kingdom she knows exists from reading Gothel’s letters before she sends them.

But in the end, she saves herself and she walks hand in hand with Stefan down an endless beach. Stefan’s daemon, a proud stallion called Victory, runs along the ocean and Penelope soars above them. Rapunzel feels her toes rest in the sand and smiles.

-:-

Before meeting Lila, Odette had never seen a daemon be so vocal about anything before.

Then again, she’s never really had much of a chance to listen to a daemon.

Although everyone in her village had a daemon, they usually settled as something small and useful to their companion’s occupations. The local blacksmith had a small elephant to help with metalwork, her father had his cat to try out new recipes on, and her sister had her horse to help her travel.

In comparison, Odette has always felt out of place with her own daemon: a swan she called Cygnus, who in truth wasn’t particularly useful at anything except for hiding away.

Once Marie had dragged her to a village dance. Odette hadn’t really wanted to go, but Marie was going on a date with the florist's daughter and didn’t want their father to know. But midway through the first dance, when Marie had left to get a drink, Odette had the misfortune of stumbling past a small crowd of young hunters. Hunters who had bragged loudly about how much of a good price they would get for Cygnus’s pelt. Afterward, Odette had run away and hidden herself in the back of the bakery despite Cygnus insisting he could take them on.

She’s gotten good at running away. Until now, she supposes. She couldn’t escape the curse, and here she is.

Lila’s attitude might also have something to do with the serenity with which the Fairy Queen carries herself. Lila could be an expression of her frustration and determination and anger towards her cousin for doing this to all of them, for doing this to children.

Rothbart wants to merge human and daemon together, permanently. Odette is little more than another test subject for him. Maybe she has too much faith in humanity, but Odette doesn’t think he did do it to be cruel. He believed he was doing Odette a favour, since where he came from, souls did not walk beside you. They stayed within, trapped, screaming. Odette imagines Cygnus stuck inside her own mind forever as he is now, fighting for space and causing her near-blinding headaches, and is more determined than ever to break the spell.

Odette is surprised to learn that Daniel’s daemon is a moth. A tiny, slip of a thing, not at all like the man himself. The man who will one day be king. The man she thinks she could love. He is horrified by what’s been done to her, as he should be.

As she steps in front of him to take the full brunt of Rothbart’s curse and die at his feet, she hears Cygnus say “Alone you are two, but together you are one.”

Cygnus was right, Odette reflects at her wedding. She should consider listening to him more often.

-:-

Anneliese is well aware that her position as Princess often inspires daemon forms to settle.

Most daemon settle whilst their humans are still children, and her subjects look up to her as royalty, and as the woman who will someday be their Queen. Not that Anneliese relishes in this fact, honestly, since she’s read much about daemons in her science books and she would rather they settle their own form independently of her. Due to this, she tends to keep herself and her daemon, a white cat called Serafina, confined to the palace. This satisfies her mother, who remembers all too well the night her father died after being hit by a carriage, and would sooner have her home and safe.

Still, Anneliese can’t help but find her own self induced isolation stifling. Only Julian brings her solace with his tales of events he’s witnessed in the village, gossip from the household staff, and maps of places she will probably never visit but are wonderful to imagine all the same. His own daemon, a barn owl called Earl, lets Serafina run around trying in vain to catch him.

Sometimes, her hand will brush against Julian’s and she shivers. She dreams of freedom.

For the first four days after Erika’s arrival at Madam Carp’s, Wolfie is kept locked in the sewing room cupboard. Madam Carp says it’s because she can’t stand Erika’s daemon’s barking, says he’s a freak of nature just because he couldn’t quite decide to settle as a dog or cat so decided on both. But Erika’s work suffers as a result, so Madam Carp eventually relents.

Afterward, Wolfie resolves never to leave Erika’s side ever again. For the most part, he doesn’t. He hides beneath the work table on stays at the very top of the shelves whenever Madam Carp rears her head and sleeps on Erika’s feet at night even though it is often too cold in the shop for her to sleep for very long. Madam Carp doesn’t like wasting money stoking the fire for those who owe her debts.

King Dominick’s daemon is a small chameleon he calls Button. It suits him and his disguises, she considers later, as she is singing a song she wrote just for him. When he kisses her upon her return, Button hops onto her shoulder and clings to her.

“I missed you,” Dominick tells her and Erika wants to cry because no one has ever told her that before. She giggles like the child she never got to be and kisses him again. Behind them, she thinks she can hear Anneliese and Julian cheering for them.

-:-

Were it not for the knowledge that some of the flower fairies outside of the Magic Meadow have daemons who take the form of Puffballs, Elina knows that Bibble would be used by her tormentors as more proof of just how much she doesn’t belong here. But she already knows this.
Instead, Bibble becomes her friend and the only being in the world who understands her. This makes sense, Elina supposes, because Bibble is a part of her soul.

Only mortals believe in souls, though, and much of Fairytopia treat their daemons with as much regard as they do their pets. Elina finds that sad. She likes having something tangible she can believe in.

Getting wings doesn’t change she and Bibble’s relationship. It’s incredible to fly with him. Elina never wants to stop.

-:-

Wenlock curses Brietta to resemble a mismatched form of her own daemon. When Brietta’s daemon, a bright yellow horse called Apollo, vanishes in a flash of white light the villagers panic.

They don’t need to, though, but they won’t know this for several months. But they assume this is another punishment for Brietta. They all know their beloved Princess has been cursed for her refusal to marry Wenlock, but unbeknownst to them, Brietta finds she can’t stand the pity in their letters or in the merger earnings they sent to compensate her new state of living. She especially hates being a burden to her family, so she leaves.

But Apollo doesn’t have wings. One night, the Cloud Queen uses some of her magic to grant him wings to grow on his back, in order for him to be able to follow Brietta to her new home in Cloud Kingdom. It completely drains her for days, but Rayla insists she didn’t mind.

“You are already in agony, dear,” Rayla informs her as one of the triplets puts a warm washcloth over her forehead. Brietta thinks she still looks radiant, even with her wet hair clinging to her forehead. “You don’t need even more pain by separating two halves of the same soul.”

“Thank you, Cloud Queen.” Brietta tells her and means it.

Apollo likes his new home in the stables, likes the companionship of other horses, and gets used to the new sensation of the ground being so far away from him.

Anika’s daemon is a small polar bear who she names Shiver. Her parents aren’t happy, given that this particular form could scratch Annika’s eyes out, but Annika doesn’t care. She loves Shiver just the same. The summers were always hard for Annika, so this form makes sense.

Aidan’s daemon is a chestnut
brown horse named Silver, and after their wedding in the sky, he and Apollo get along wonderfully, especially after a race through the clouds.

Annika skates with her new husband whilst her sister watches on, and she is giddy with joy, like she’s floating. Aidan doesn’t ever let go of her hand, and she doubts he ever plans to.

-:-

Barbie’s daemon hasn’t settled fully, but normally keeps to herself as a small bright pink butterfly that often sits in Barbie’s hair on her hair pin. Barbie calls her Harmony.

Raquelle’s daemon is a large white tiger and everyone who’s ever known her can see why. Raquelle named her Clawdia. Sometimes Barbie misses when they were children, before Raquelle’s daemon settled and they both had butterflies that flew together in the playground air.

Tia’s daemon - a duck called James Pond - and Courtney’s daemon - a flying squirrel called Riot - play with each other on the benches beside the Popular Lawn. Harmony plays with them sometimes, too, but she mostly keeps to herself like Barbie does.

Harmony changes often, usually depending on her mood or some life event. When she has a burning need to write in her diary, Harmony’s legs turn the colour of the ink she uses. When Stephanie vanishes, Barbie notes that Harmony has a streak in one of her wings that looks like the missing woman’s red hair. When her bracelet is stolen, Harmony’s eyes turn a bright silver.

Barbie misses Raquelle a lot, not that she tells anyone.

It’s a week after the Fall Formal. It takes awhile for Raquelle to approach her because she’s almost never alone nowadays. Autumn is setting in, and all the leaves are the colour of Raquelle’s hair. It isn’t her natural colour, Barbie knows, but it suits her more than she will ever admit aloud.

Clawdia twines herself around Barbie legs as though she were a house cat. Barbie pats her head absentmindedly, despite knowing it’s a social taboo.

“Clawdia doesn’t like just anyone,” Raquelle comments. “I did wonder what Dawn and Regen saw in you. You just...draw people in like the sun.”

“Thank you?” Barbie says. She can’t remember the last time Raquelle complimented anyone but herself. “What do you want?”

“Nothing,” Raquelle promises. “I heard you and Charmz playing at the formal. It wasn’t...the worst music I’ve ever heard.”

“Gee, thanks,” Barbie mutters. “Again, what do you want?”

Raquelle doesn’t say anything. But Barbie can’t describe how happy and confused she feels when Raquelle hands her back her charm bracelet and clasps it firmly around her wrist.

-:-

Nori’s daemon is a small pufferfish called Spike and Elina doesn’t think she’s ever seen a daemon fit his human quite so well.

She never gets the chance to meet Nalu’s daemon. The Fungai had left him behind when they took him. She suspects it must be something pretty, like an angelfish. Elina can’t imagine what kind of pain he’s in. The pain he remains in.

Trying to get Bibble to leave her behind leaves her in agony before Nori gives her the immunity berry. Nori saves her life that day, and Elina will never stop owing her.

The immunity berry gives her back her wings and Elina touches clouds again.

-:-

Twyla dislikes Rowena instantly. Growls at her, even, but sinks behind Genevieve’s leg when Rowena’s daemon tries to grab her.

It’s odd, Geneive thinks, because Twyla is usually indifferent to strangers at worst.

“Don’t touch her!” Genevieve hisses.

“How dare you! I would never,” Rowena glares but calls Brutus away.

In the Pavilion, all their daemons settle for a time. Even Lacey. In the Pavillion, they get peace for a short time. In the Pavillion, Derek says he loves her, that he always has.

When Rowena is gone and their father is recovered, Lacey’s daemon settles as a hummingbird and runs about the palace smiling again. Genieve makes she and Kathleen and Jenessa a trio of flower girls. Genevieve holds onto Derek’s hand and they share their first dance as husband and wife.

-:-

Sunburt’s daemon is a talking flower that bites almost as much as her. Elina finds this fascinating, even though she knows Sunburst hates her. She doesn’t mind, though. She’s used to being hated.

Glee’s daemon is another puffball called Dizzle who Bibble instantly adores. They hear them chatter intelligibly together all the time and Elina has never seen him this delighted by the presence of anyone but her. She’s a little bit jealous, if she’s entirely honest with herself.

Elina knows Laverna’s disguise almost instantly. Sunburst being nice to her could be a coincidence, but Elina would recognise Laverna’s toad daemon anywhere.

-:-

When Ro washes up on the island, her daemon splits into four separate beings. She wonders if this is a result of her fractured memory, but she isn’t sure.

Her daemons are one of the things Antonio first notices about her, and he finds it fascinating. He finds many things about her fascinating, though his parents mostly find her strange even if her ability to talk to animals makes her useful. Antonio’s daemon is a dragonfly, a wandering glider. The way he looks at her makes her feel like she’s relaxing in the sun, warm and safe.

She isn’t sure of a lot of things until she meets her mother. Even when she has a family again, her daemons never merge together, but she doesn’t care. She has peace.

-:-

Liana and Alexa’s daemons play amongst their newly grown flowers.

It had taken a long time to grow them back, to find someone to rebuild their cottage properly, permanently. They had to lock their bedroom door so the men wouldn’t see that they only had one bed now. Jeremy and Ian haven’t been seen for years. Melody had supplied them with enough money to last a lifetime as a thanks for saving them.

They are growing their own floral arrangements for the wedding. Roses and lilies, mostly. The venue is the Diamond Castle because no church will accept them and churches remind Liana of her father.

Melody’s daemon isn’t an animal, it is her instrument and even though Slyder broke it she did not die. Melody finds their daemons fascinating, scratches the puppies heads and is allowed to because she’s magical. Their daemons like her, though, especially Sparkle.

The wedding will be soon. They wait for their flowers to bloom, their arms wrapped around each other.

-:-

Until she attends Princess Charm School, Blair doesn’t have a daemon.

She is an anomaly, she knows, because even orphans left on doorsteps have daemons. Everyone has a daemon.

At school, she pretends her daemon is one of the stray cats and has long conversations with her, handing her what little food she can off of her lunch table to keep her sweet. She feels pain, yes, but she doesn’t recognise that it’s due to her lack of a daemon. She assumes it’s chronic pain, like her mother. Emily and her mother catch on to her game, so much so that when she and Emily attend the same school for a time Emily lends her her daemon - an emperor penguin named Mumble - for a bit, to make her seem more credible. Emily usually throws up because of how far from her Blair usually is, but Emily says she doesn’t care.

Blair sends Mumble back to her anyway, and stays at the back of the class to avoid the taunting.

When Prince the dog runs into her arms, Blair feels like a puzzle piece being slowly put back together. Prince calls her Princess, she can hear what he thinks, and Prince loves her instantly even though he’s never met her before, has he?

“I missed you!” Prince says. “I’m sorry I had to leave you behind, the bad lady tried to hurt you, so I left you behind, somewhere safe. Were you safe? I hope you were safe. I love you! I loved you! I’m sorry!”

Blair rests her head on Prince’s fur and replies, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sorry. You’ve nothing to apologise for.”

“Oh?” Prince licks her face but doesn’t say anything else. He stays at her heels, though, and Blair’s intense pain subsides.

Delancy Devin’s daemon is a crow called Regina, and Blair takes slight satisfaction in the thought that if she asked, Prince would rip her out of the sky and sink his teeth into it. Not that she would ask, though, because she’s already teetering on the edge of being expelled and attacking Delancy’s daemon would mean her losing everything.

She’s still thought about it, though. Her mother’s crown glows on her head and Blair or Sophia or whoever she is, forgives Delancy for being acting out in the cruel world her mother had created for her. She even dance with her as Dame Devin rots in the dungeons below the palace.

In a few years, almost all of Gardania and beyond will attend their wedding. Regina even supplies the rings. Even Prince approves.

At her coronation, Blair officially changes her name to Queen Blair Sophia Willows-Devin, and finally feels accepted.