Another fic inspired by the 100 fanatic challenge (see FanArt100 on DA). Where "No Free Lunch" was inspired by "Purple," this fic was inspired by (wait for it) "If."

"Only a little farther, my dear," Slappy said to his tiny, pretty companion as he helped her slide from the stolen Smart car. Although less than four feet tall, Slappy thought he had done a fine job managing the miniature vehicle, especially after liberally applying the substitutiary-locomotion spell which The Menace had taught him all those years ago in Panic Park.

He set the little dark-haired beauty upon the autumn grass, smirking at her expressionless wooden face. She wobbled against him, but she made no sound. In the light of the open car, her green eyes stared blankly ahead, looking but not seeing anything.

That worked with Slappy's plans just fine. Better than her fighting and screaming the entire way to her kismet. The dummy had waited more than a decade for this woman, and nothing short of the zombie apocalypse could stop Slappy now - and even then he would probably find himself a officiant among the walking dead.

"Come now," he commanded, shutting the car door. He took her hand, tapping his wooden lips against her diminutive fingers. She obediently followed him as he guided her across the overgrown lawn toward the crumbling house in the distance, the only light beneath the moonless sky.

Slappy had been to the decrepit estate just once before in his long life, but he knew where he needed to go, and he knew just where he wanted to be standing within the hour. His wooden eyes scanned the overgrown stretch of land between him and the lit window. He giggled in triumph as he zeroed in on the stone arch, the only remains of the destroyed manor house of yesteryear.

Slappy pulled his lovely lady into a quick detour. Dry leaves rustled in the wind and crunched beneath the two pairs of miniature feet as they trekked to the old, stiff fixture. Slappy grinned up at the antique and drew his companion against his side. With his free hand, he pointed. Even in the dark, his enchanted eyes could see upon the curve of the arch nine stones which read STORMWELL.

"Funny little story about this arch, dear," he rasped in her wooden ear. "A huge estate used to stand here, years and years ago. The rich owner had a son, and two women in the town tried to win his heart. One had been a smart witch, but lacking in the looks department. The other had been all beauty, with stale air for brains. Unsurprisingly, the rich son announced his engagement to the supermodel instead of the hag. Not that I wouldn't do the same in his shoes."

He rested his head against his silent companion. He could already envision the years worth of moments where she would lean against him as they sat together, planning their next move to further Slappy's power. She might resist him, once he removed the hypnosis, but ultimately she would see that obedience was her only choice. Besides, she literally could do no better than the dummy who'd be at the top of the world by next year.

"In any case," he continued, "the wedding was held in the mansion, right beneath these stones. The ugly witch cast a fearful curse in revenge. The moment the couple were pronounced husband and wife, they would both drop dead. The wedding guests too."

Slappy kicked at a loose pebble, sending it skidding into the dark grass. He then smiled again at his quiet beauty. "Unfortunately, nothing that fun actually happened," he said. "The witch's sister was a goody two shoes. Once she learned what the bad witch was planning, she started to meddle like that last good fairy from 'Sleeping Beauty.' She couldn't remove the curse, but she altered it so that the bad witch was the one punished. See, if the couple's love was true, then part of the bad sister's magic would be theirs to use, to protect them from future threats. If no real love was there, then they still wouldn't die. The bad witch's magic would still go into them, but it would affect their blood and make them age prematurely. Their lifespans would still be shortened, but that's the best the good sister's magic could do."

He took her wooden hands in his. It fitted as perfectly as though she had been made for him - and since he had been the one to turn her into a puppet, he could triumphantly say she had been.

"But I don't have blood. Nor do you - not anymore," he smirked. "The bad witch lost her power that day, but it didn't stop there. The legend says that anyone who marries beneath this arch gets a piece of the witch's power. This is where you come in, my dear," he said, almost tenderly as he lifted her chin to gaze into her green eyes. "This arch is useless to a bachelor. True love or no, we will walk away from here with more magic than we came in with."

He then wrapped her arm around his elbow - she made no objections, natch - and guided her on.

The little house had been the servants' quarters when the Stormwell estate had stretched across the valley farmland, and it was the only still functioning part of the old empire. A lone light shone in the room beside the back porch.

When they reached the illuminated window, Slappy disentangled himself from his fiancée. He peered through the dirty glass and saw a small kitchen with a lone graying woman at the table. A decorative bandanna wrapped around her salt-and-pepper tresses, keeping them off her shoulders. Large glasses perched on her squat tan nose, and her tongue traced her upper lip in concentration as she laid down playing cards in her favorite game, Solitaire.

Slappy smirked at his oblivious acquaintance: Blanche Cardiff, the only surviving member of the Stormwell line, thanks to an adoptive ancestor somewhere in the family tree. Blanche Cardiff, the replacement fortune teller who the Carnival of Horrors had kidnapped after Madame Zeno perished helping the freaks' first escape attempt from the cursed fairgrounds. Blanche Cardiff, the woman who owed Slappy a BIG favor.

Slappy stepped to the screen door, opened it, and focused his power on the knob of the backdoor. He tapped it once, and the lock clicked. Then he pushed it open, and he smiled at the sound of a chair falling backwards as its resident sprang to her bare feet.

"Depart from this house, and you will not suffer my terrible curses!" she cried, the effect of the threat dampened by her heavy hick accent.

Slappy stuck his hand around the door, waving it like a white flag. "Hold your fire, you crazy hag!" he called, not completely showing himself until he knew she wouldn't throw a flame spell at him. "You owe me big, and I've come to collect."

She gave a strangled cry. "Oh, not you…" The woman crossed to the door with audibly reluctant steps. Slappy plastered an unperturbed smirk as Blanche Cardiff's wrinkled face came into view, holding her old crystal ball as a weapon. She adjusted the glasses, squinting at the intruder. "Slappy? You're alive?"

Slappy leaned an arm against the door frame. "Long time no see, Blanche," he said casually, enjoying the fear radiating through the glasses.

"That's 'Miz Blanche' to you, dummy," she retorted, but apprehension lined her words. Her troubled eyes shot up and down his short body. "I haven't seen you since Ninety-Six. Why are you darkening my door after seventeen years?"

Slappy covered the left side of his chest, letting syrupy sarcasm seep into his rasp. "Time means nothing in matters of the heart," he cried, quoting a ridiculous romance novel one of his former female slaves of the teenage persuasion used to read out loud before he had revealed to the little lovelorn loser he was alive. "May we come in?"

Blanche's eyes shifted, finally noticing the shadow behind the dummy. "Depends. Who's 'we'?"

It was so perfectly theatrical. Slappy pushed open the door, drawing his sweetheart into the kitchen. He couldn't help admiring the glassy green eyes again as she submissively stepped into the light. "I helped you escape from the Carnival of Horrors, Blanchy Wanchy. In exchange, you promised a favor on your life's blood."

Blanche frowned at the doll beside him. "And she's part of the favor, I take it?"

Slappy nodded, putting his arm around the doll's shoulders. "Meet Jillian Zinman, soon to be Mrs. Slappy."

Blanche pursed her lips. The index finger wrapped around her crystal ball lifted to point at Jillian. "Is she under a spell?"

"What's it to you?"

"I assume you're here to marry her under the stone arch," Blanche huffed, sweeping her long paisley skirt back as she stuck her crystal into a deep pocket.

"Eloping to Vegas is so tacky," he smirked. "A dummy's wedding day should be special."

Blanche moved to the table and righted her chair, avoiding eye contact. "No."

"You're not in a position to refuse, Blanche."

"You haven't seen what that thing can do," she said, clearing away her card game. "My great-grandfather only survived the final Stormwell wedding because he had been adopted. He was one of the few to be alive by the next year."

"Considering how many Stormwells were probably their own fourth cousins, I'm not surprised," joked the dummy.

"Listen!" Blanche urged, baring her teeth in a hiss. "His aunt had been so desperate for marriage, she fell for the charms of a con artist who didn't believe in the curse. All the Stormwells aged in a blink, even his baby cousin. Only my grandfather and the in-law spouses were spared."

"A nice little story indeed," Slappy replied. "But the bride and groom still got a bit of magic, so it wasn't a complete loss."

Blanche shook her head. "A hurricane swept through here when I was a girl. The house was completely demolished, but that stone arch didn't even tilt. Moss won't even touch it. That thing refuses to die." She finally turned back to Slappy. "The curse is real, dummy. If a bride and groom have no love, then the curse corrupts them even to their blood. Believe me."

"But we don't have blood," Slappy reminded her.

"You have the soul of your dead toymaker," she pointed out. "Does he have any blood relatives left?"

"Of course not," he snapped.

She gestured to Jillian. "Did she ever have blood?"

"Does it matter?"

"It does to her living relatives," she said seriously. "The curse can harm anyone who shares blood with her, both on the mother's and father's sides. Many could even die before the year's out."

"Then relax your mind. She's an orphan, like me," he lied. He kept one arm around Jillian, and with his other he stroked her cheek. "I'll soon be the only family she has. Well, me and our two children."

Blanche jolted, clutching the tablecloth. "You have kids?" she gaped, as if he had just announced he would bomb a hospital.

"One of each," Slappy chirped. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small woven band: a colorful friendship bracelet made from yawn. "My girl, Rachel, made this for her Papa Slappy," he boasted. "Isn't it great?"

The old woman frowned. "Did you kidnap them too?"

"What kind of monster do you take me for?" Slappy sneered, deliberately posing the question to avoid answering. "Not technically lying" could be as fun as actual lying after all. Besides, Rachel preferred him over her biological parents, so only his boy, Jackson, counted as kidnapping. "I'd show you a photograph, but puppets don't usually carry cameras on them," Slappy said. "In any case, my pride and joy need their mama, so can we hurry this along, Four Eyes?"

Blanche fold her arms. "I should wake up the others and make you leave. Westley the strong man could twist you into a pretzel."

Slappy's irreverent demeanor dropped, and his anger flared. He yanked Jillian closer to him and fixed his dagger glare on the wrinkled face. "You owe me," he growled. "You swore on your life's blood. Shall I enforce the punishment of your refusal?" His eyes flashed. "Trust me, it's worse than what that arch can do."

Blanche visibly shuddered. She sighed in defeat. "Fine. Just… just let me get the other folks. You need witnesses."

Slappy's congenial farce returned, but fooling no one - which was part of the fun. "Thank you, Blanchy."

She pushed back her skirt in a fidget and turned for a flight of narrow stairs near her ancient refrigerator. Then she spun back to him. "Can I dress up the girl a little?"

"I've waited long enough for her. I could marry her in a bed sheet."

"Maybe, but I have a white dress she could probably fit," she said, crinkling her brow. "If this is the only wedding the poor girl will have, she might as well look her best."

Slappy turned to his bride, weighing the offer. Jillian wore a simple autumn outfit of black pants, a pumpkin turtleneck, and a comfy jacket, all miniaturized when he had transformed her. She looked gorgeous to him, of course, but he remembered the first time he had tried to marry her. Back then, he had hijacked a birthday party using vomit. Her jeans, T-shirt, and nearly everything else had been layered in foul green liquid. It was a testament to her overwhelming beauty that he had wanted her even in that state.

But back then, he had been racing against the clock to get her to comply before the parents of the party guests interfered. Now, he had some leisure. Maybe they wouldn't have a full wedding reception with cake, dancing, and bouquet tosses, but Slappy could allow himself at least a bride in a white dress. He deserved it after all the years he waited for this marriage.

He kissed Jillian's hand again, and with his hypnosis he guided her toward Blanche. "Do it quick."

The freaks Blanche had rescued from the Carnival of Horrors assembled on the overgrown stone foundation around the Stormwell arch. Conjoined triplets sharing one body, a Lizard Man, a Fat Lady, and a host of others of all shapes set up battery-powered camping lanterns and pointedly avoided eye contact with the eager, impatient bridegroom pacing beneath the cursed curve.

Slappy hummed a wedding march to himself, stopping from time to time to glance at the upstairs window where Blanche had migrated to prepare his bride.

At long last he would be married. It was a difficult road to get to this point, and he had gone through much. He had lost slaves, escaped the Carnival of Horrors, ran free through HorrorLand, and had nearly been trapped in Panic Park. He had survived attempts on his life, from his redhead brother's torments to the pawnshop owner who had shoved that sandwich into his head to even the curses which Jimmy O'James had tried to cast on him. He had failed at nearly every turn, but now things would finally go his way. After all, he was a family man now.

Slappy reached into his jacket pocket and clasped the braided friendship band. Rachel Stander had given him that nearly a week after the first time she had called him Papa. Jackson still resisted becoming his son, but Rachel adored Slappy, and the dummy would've been lying if he said he didn't value his chaotic companion. She made mischief as easily as an IHOP cook made pancakes. She even looked a little like Slappy, possessing brown hair, dark eyes, and freckles, although that was merely a fortunate coincidence. Very few humans existed who Slappy could trust, and his daughter was in the top three.

No magic had been necessary to win her loyalty. Rachel preferred an evil dummy's kinship over her biological parents, who favored the firstborn Boy Scout of a son. Her human father even called her "Problem Child," not bothering to lower his voice when he did. Rachel constantly begged her Papa Slappy to take her away. She didn't mind him turning her into a dummy if it meant she could finally be happy and appreciated.

But Slappy couldn't care for Rachel and Jackson on his own. Yes, he had considered turning them both into puppets, which would eradicate the constant need to feed them, but he hadn't cast that spell because their human parents had been able to provide for them better. He hadn't had enough magic to raise them as a single father, but now he wouldn't be single for much longer.

Slappy smirked as he remembered the day the Stander parents, in desperation, had sent Jackson to the Borderville Youth Center to meet with a volunteer who they thought could helped Jackson through his "behavioral issues." The only member on staff still willing to speak with the boy after Slappy had gotten him banned, this volunteer had specifically requested to meet the ostracized preteen. Slappy had waited until he was sure his son would be with the volunteer, gave the chirp which would trigger Jackson's hypnosis, looked through the boy's eyes -

- And saw the most beautiful woman on the planet smiling back.

Jillian Zinman. The one who got away.

He wouldn't let her go again.

She was twenty-seven now, a good fifteen years older than Jackson, which technically made her old enough to be the mother of Slappy's adopted children. She ran her own business as a birthday clown, and she had tried to use a juggling lesson to coax Jackson into sharing his troubles. It might have worked if Jackson hadn't been under hypnosis - the boy merely needed to mention the dummy's name, and Jillian would've believe him in a heartbeat - but Slappy had held the reins.

He had acted amiably through Jackson, enjoying the ironic pleasure of those bright smiles which she would never give if she knew who was really staring at her. She saw Jackson twice a week, and for five months Slappy had bided his time, building up her trust. He had gotten her to open up to him about what she had been up to in the fifteen years since he had last seen her: she had no current boyfriend (not that it would have stopped Slappy), went through some college, and enjoyed her work with kids. Together, Slappy and Jillian had laughed over Internet videos which her best friend Harrison and his girlfriend Amy had made. They went out for ice cream together, even went to an arcade in the mall before catching a movie. Then Slappy had made his move.

Through Jackson, Slappy had lured Jillian to the Standers' house while the parents were out shopping. When the dummy had had her alone, he cast his tricky spells, both making her a doll and putting her under hypnosis. Now, Rachel and Jackson would get a proper mother, and Slappy would finally have the girl of his dreams beside him forever. With the added magic from the stone arch, the dummy would at last get everything he ever wanted: an estate house of his own, a legion of slaves to do his bidding, a family to adore him. In a few years, he and Jillian might build additional children from scratch, firmly establishing the Clan of Slappy which would last for eons.

The backdoor of the servants' quarters drew him from his reverie, and Slappy spun his head in an 180 twist as Blanche slowly crossed the lawn, carrying the white-clad Jillian and an old book.

"Here comes the bride," the dummy grinned, and excitement swept through him. I win! I finally win! he gloated.

As Blanche brought Jillian into the lamp light, Slappy saw his bride had been clothed in a small dress from a different time, perhaps a little girl's party frock or communion gown. A circlet adorned her pretty hair with a white veil cascading down her back (again, probably for some girl's first communion). Blanche had even given the bride something blue: a satin ribbon around her diminutive neck.

Blanche placed Jillian on Slappy's left, and the dummy linked hands with his sweetheart. Blanche exhaled, peering up at the stone arch with apprehension on her countenance. "Not too late to ask for a different favor."

"I literally want nothing else from you," the dummy rasped, touching Jillian's veil with a sense of pleasure. A divulge of gratitude toward Blanche swept through him for suggesting a proper gown. Definitely worth the fifteen years of waiting. "Once you say 'man and wife,' you'll never see me again."

"Can I have that in writing?" Blanche cracked. "Okay, let me check this thing for how the good witch said to - "

A loud revving of an engine cut her off, coming from the still country road at the end of the driveway. It echoed from a ways off, but it grew, and an electric light flickered through the trees within seconds.

"We'll wait for it to pass," suggested Blanche, lowering the book. She eyed the road with suspicion, ever protective of her odd little family. "Who could be riding a motorcycle around here at this time of night?"

"The sooner you begin, the sooner we leave," Slappy rasped, but his eyes bulged as he saw the light on the motorcycle turn into the driveway. Right toward where Slappy had parked the stolen Smart car.

A young man in a helmet and open jacket screeched his brakes, nearly toppling over as he sprung from his vehicle. He sprinted toward the gathered wedding party and witnesses. He had a tall, wide frame, and as he tore off his helmet, he revealed dark hair and a serious face.

He eyed the freaks warily, hardly slowing, sizing them all up. "Does anybody know where the driver of that car - " He stopped as his eyes fell upon the two puppets beneath the stone arch. "Jillian!" he cried, starting forward.

He didn't get far. The strong man pounced, hauling up the wide youth as if he were a rag doll. The muscular ex-performer turned toward Blanche. "What should I do with 'im, ma'am?"

"Just hold him for now, Westley dear," Blanche instructed, eyeing the newcomer with curiosity and care.

Slappy frowned at the intruder - and then he broke into a snicker as one freak brought a lamp closer, illuminating the wide face. "Is that Harrison Cohen?" he cried. "How is it that you look fatter in real life than on YouTube?"

Harrison struggled, but he couldn't prevail against Westley. "Let Jillian go!" he cried desperately, clawing at the larger arms. "I've read about that arch! You can't do this to her!"

"Can and will," replied Slappy. He turned to Blanche. "Get on with it."

The woman frowned. "First, I want to know how some kid I've never seen round these here parts knows about this arch. It ain't common knowledge."

"You can interrogate him while I'm on my honeymoon," Slappy retorted.

"People blog about him," Harrison said quickly. His face said he knew a stalling method when he saw one, and he would milk it for all its worth. "Everybody he's tormented over the years has started sharing their stories on the Internet. We all know about the evil toy maker who died in the late nineteenth century - "

"I'm not that old," Slappy snapped. "Who checks your facts on those blogs?"

" - And Jimmy O'James is the one who cursed him so that when you say the magic words a second time, he falls asleep again. Before, those words only woke him up." Harrison glared. "And all of us have those words memorized in case we meet him again."

Slappy pulled Jillian closer to him. "You do, and she'll be under my spells forever," he hissed. "At least if she marries me, I'll let her have her mind back."

Harrison visibly faltered. He stared helplessly at his best friend, who didn't even know her would-be rescuer stood a stone's throw away.

Blanche glowered down at Slappy. "So, who did you tell about the arch?" she demanded. "That was supposed to be a secret, toothpick."

Slappy rolled his eyes. Figures. The only person he ever shared his full life story with had been Jimmy O'James, way back in the 90s, and that was only because the geek's car had broken down on a country road at night. There had been nothing else to do but drink Coke and talk until the sun rose.

He should have killed Jimmy when he had had the chance.

Slappy gave Blanche a hard smile. "Just get me married, and you'll never see me again. Or I enforce the blood oath."

Blanche exhaled. "Fair enough." She opened her book. "Do you, Slappy, take - "

"Wait!" Harrison struggled, trying to kick Wesley's shins, but the strong man barely acknowledged it beside an annoyed grunt. "You can't do this to her! She doesn't love him! She doesn't even like him!"

Blanche shook her head tiredly. "Who really likes Slappy?" she replied. "But I swore on my life's blood to return a favor to get him to help us all escape." She waved a hand at the surrounding carnies. "My friends would still be in slavery to a bigger threat if I hadn't made my promise. Unless Slappy chooses a different favor for me to fulfill, I must do this, sonny. I'm sure your little girlfriend is a lovely person who deserves better, but I must do this."

"What could be better than wedded bliss to me?" smirked Slappy, touching his fiancée's darling visage.

"A root canal comes to mind," returned Blanche. "Anyway, Slappy, do you take this human-turned-puppet-against-her-will as your - "

"Do you even love her, Slappy?" Harrison demanded, grasping at another straw.

"I'm not without fondness for her," replied the dummy. "And to answer your question, Blanche, I do."

"If you like her even a smidgen," continued Harrison, "wouldn't you want her to marry you because she chooses to?"

"I also want to turn you into a cockroach and squish you into oblivion. I'll be able to do that once Blanche finishes."

"But suppose you got yourself a willing bride instead," Harrison pleaded. "You can find all sorts of women on the Internet. One of them would probably go for a puppet marriage. You'll kill Jillian's family if you go through with this!"

Blanche shot the dummy a dirty look. "'She's an orphan like me, Blanche,'" she said, mimicking his raspy voice.

"Her family or your life," Slappy growled. "What happens to your freaks if you die and the government repossesses your land, hmm?"

Blanche held up one hand, nearly dropping her book. She looked squeamish. "Look, I can do this, dumdum," she said. "But please tell me you took more than two minutes to come up with this plan."

What little patience Slappy had held onto to get his wedding completed finally evaporated. He grabbed Blanche's paisley dress and tugged on the skirt. In a hiss, he warned, "Even if you die right here, I'll find another way to marry her. I've waited my whole life for a girl like this. If I marry her, I'll finally be happy!"

"If you marry her, a lot of people might die!" Harrison shouted.

"Read the part for Jillian," Slappy ordered, ignoring him. "She'll say what I make her say."

Harrison tried again. "What if you grow bored with her?"

Blanche met the dummy's glare. "What if you grow bored with her?" she repeated softly.

Slappy snorted. "That's a pretty big 'if'."

"This whole plan of yours is one big 'if'!" Harrison hollered. "Maybe you'll be happy with her - and maybe you'll change your mind tomorrow. Maybe Jillian is the girl for you, but you hijacked her mind like a computer virus, so you don't know. Does she even know you're here?"

"She knows what I tell her."

"What's the difference between her and buying a doll from the toy store then?"

Slappy scoffed. "No mere doll can do what she'll be doing," he said. "My son and daughter need a mother, and I need a helpmate. I'll only take the best." He stroked her hair. "I'll give back her mind once we're married. Read, Blanche."

"It's just the same problem," Harrison cried as Blanche fumbled with her book. "Do you think she'll like you once her mind is back? Knowing you killed her sisters and parents and cousins? If she doesn't, then are you going to take her mind away again? What if you hate having a wife who doesn't love you whether she has a mind or not? What if - "

"Shut him up," Slappy drawled, shooting a commanding look at the strong man.

Westley turned to the bespectacled officiant. "Your call, Miz Blanche."

"What if somebody did this to your daughter, huh?" Harrison shouted. "What if some guy kidnapped her and forced her into marriage like you're doing to Jillian?"

Slappy spun sharply, nearly knocking over his bride. "That would never happen to my Rachel."

Harrison scoffed. "Oh, yeah? Well, if it did, wouldn't you want someone like me coming to rescue her?" he pointed out. "Jillian's somebody's daughter too, you know!"

"Shut him up!" Slappy commanded. "Knock him out!"

"Do it, Westley," said Blanche. "But gently."

With that, the strong man formed a fist and bopped it against the struggling young man. Harrison groaned and crumpled.

Blanche sighed, and she finally read the question for the bride. "Do you, Jillian, take this dummy to be your husband, to love, honor, and obey him, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, 'til death do you part? Or what qualifies as death for him?" she added as an aside.

Jillian gazed at Slappy without seeing him. Slappy used his hypnosis to open her mouth.

He stopped. He closed her lips.

He looked at her. He hesitated. He took her hands. Then he looked at the arches. Then at her once more.

"Jillian," he rasped, low enough that the others couldn't hear, "tell me you want me."

Her wooden jaw clicked a little as it moved. A faint sound came out. "…"

He brought his lips to her delicate ear. "You still need to learn how to talk in this new body," he told her, "but I'll teach you. I told you at our first wedding that you'd be my slave for the rest of your life, but you're not just a slave now, Jillian. You're my pretty doll, and you'll be with me forever."

She stared straight ahead, silent.

He could feel the eyes of the freaks on him. Blanche shuffled her feet. Slappy blocked them all out.

"If I gave you back your mind, you'll see how much I'm doing for you right now," he argued, touching her other cheek as he continued to whisper in her ear. "I'm giving you magic with this marriage. If you promise me you won't try to use it against me, I'll teach you everything I know. You'll be the perfect queen for me."

She stared straight ahead, silent.

"I've waited this long for you," he insisted. "You have two beautiful children waiting for you too, and we'll build ourselves some more soon. An eternal family, Jillian. No more lonely nights for either of us."

She stared straight ahead, silent.

"You already know Jackson. Sort of," he added. "It was me talking to you all that time, but that proves we can get along well together. You even laughed at my jokes and called me sweet when I made him help you across that puddle at the Youth Center. And you'll love the real Jackson, and my Rachel. You can be a mother who doesn't play favorites."

He pressed his lips against her smooth cheek. Then her sweet nose. Then her lovely mouth. I want this. I want this, he told himself as he held the kiss.

He could see the scene before him: Jillian and the Stander kids, all dummies, sitting together in a house which Slappy would acquire for them through magic. Jillian would laugh and play with their children. Mrs. Stander had been a comedian years ago, so the kids wouldn't mind having a birthday clown for their better mother. Then as things grew quiet, Jillian would look up to see Slappy watching her from an armchair. She would cross the room to climb beside him. She would sit on his lap, a sweet puppet, and wrap her arms around his neck, then kiss him. She would enjoy him as much as he enjoyed her, and she would someday thank him for relieving her of a human life.

Really, it was for the best.

Slappy laid his forehead against hers.

Then another image flashed across his mind: his Rachel, decked in a bridal gown and with blank brown eyes while an unsavory groom guided her to the altar. No one to save her. No one even to try.

Slappy drew back. He sighed, defeated. "Give her back to Harrison when he wakes up," he grumbled, releasing his bride for the last time.

Blanche's eyes widened behind her glasses. But she didn't look like she had any qualms fulfilling that request. "Aren't you gonna change her back?"

"Since she won't be tethered in marriage, she'll be human at sunrise."

"So, the kid could've safely put you back to sleep this whole time," Blanche surmised.

"That's why they invented lying," Slappy cracked. The things a papa does for his children, he thought as he stepped back to the stolen Smart car. The freaks made way for him, but Slappy barely noticed them as he traveled to the driver's side. He didn't glance back at his Jillian. That would have been like a kick in his teeth.

"She'll love me someday," Slappy rasped to himself as he climbed behind the wheel. "I just have to find the right way. If I do that, she'll love me. Then she can be my bride and their mother."

"That's a big 'if'," a nearby freak commented softly before the dummy slammed the car door shut.


The back story for the stone arch was loosely inspired by the back story for YarningChick's Cat Returns fanfic, which coincidentally is named "What If."

Miz Blanche - I had originally wanted to use Madame Zeno due to how if you choose the red card in the book, it foils the dummy's attempt to enslave the main characters. But because of various reasons (including the fact that she foils the dummy), I couldn't see her actually aiding Slappy in marrying Jillian under hypnosis. So, rather than make her OOC, I created Miz Blanche to be that anti-villain character. As such, I imagine this fic takes place a) in the path where the reader picks the blue card, which is where Madame Zeno is implied to have perished for trying to help the freaks, and b) after one of the dark endings where the reader fails to save the members of the freak show (either because the reader character died or became trapped in the carnival). Artistic license - you're allowed to use it!