As a special present for the last chapter in this tale, some dialogue in the end is based on comments from people I've talked to while writing this story. Without Kayasuri-N and dr.evil99 to listen to rants, a few sections wouldn't have had the same effect- and I'm sure they'll recognize the remark at the end. To clear up confusion before it starts, the first brief section is at night. The next section begins in the morning of the next day.
Chapter Four: In War, In Love
Beast wandered. He couldn't reach the small room that smelled of her, no matter how angry the smell made him. For all the rage that threatened to consume her, he breathed in that delicate fragrance that meant all things that were her. He wanted to destroy the last traces of that room, but he knew that he couldn't. If he lost her scent completely, he would forget it. Slowly, he would forget how she had smelled like the special dead leaves and old trees and apples. If he forgot how she smelled, memories of what she looked like and how she acted would fade. She never had been so afraid that she backed away.
He knew he would forget her. He tried to make the process faster when not confronted by her scent. He hunted. He scared any caravans to pass anywhere by the castle, and snarled at frightened shouts that the beast was prowling again. The beast howled his frustration to the fire, and the sound echoed through the empty castle. Raven had left, and he couldn't stay near the place she had so often sat to read to him, or touch the book she had forgotten. The not-leaves smelled of her, and she had treasured all of them. Instead, he shoved the books into the far corner of the room.
He knew what the word meant, the one that he hadn't understood in her simple phrase. "Goodbye, Beast." He knew his name, and now he recognized that she had mashed the two words together. When put with "bye," good lost its meaning. She had left him. He could imagine that she had moved to a better territory- to another mate. Goodbye meant anger and sadness and the horrible hope that came from the part of him that never would fully be an animal. He roared, but the weaker impulses wouldn't leave.
The moon rose twice over the castle. The books remained on the shelves, but any book lying on the floor was shredded into useless bits of dead-tree and ink. The fire died, and the low coals lost their heat to cold stones around them. The beast growled as he stormed through the orchard, claws slashing until the weak young trees were a mess of fragmented branches showing too much green wood. He growled, baring his teeth at a dropped handkerchief that smelled entirely of- girl. With a snarl that send prey fleeing to safety, he ripped the cloth in two. The wind took the pieces, carrying them to the forest. The beast watched them go before trailing a new scent, a doe that had passed through. He would bring the animal back to his cave to eat. The beast licked his lips, already savoring the coming taste of blood that a night's hunt would bring.
Raven broke into a run fifty yards from the castle. If she had been carrying luggage, it would have been airborne. She had fretted through her entire walk to the castle, too anxious to trust herself with flying. Something wasn't right. She could always feel him, a presence that she could sense just as some people could always hear a cock crowing, or a kettle beginning to whistle. She couldn't make her dim connections with the Beast.
She threw open the front doors with a burst of power and closed them with a careless wave, never flagging in her run. She peered into the ruined great hall, waiting for her eyes to adjust. She blinked impatiently, trying to hasten the change that would make her again at home in the dark. Raven turned around very slowly when the rumbling growl started, and found a beast towering above her. This wasn't Beast. She had never imagined that his eyes could carry that flat look, or that he could look- like a beast.
For the first time, Raven was afraid of him.
She backed away carefully, moving towards her room. He wouldn't be able to make it through the entrance, and maybe she could talk to him from a safe distance. Usually, he didn't try to reach through the kitchen. She knew it was a shallow hope, when she felt very much like the next item on the menu. She remembered the scars of people who had only passed by this old castle, deep gashes that had been warning shots. The beast wasn't going to warn her and send her away.
"Beast," she said with a valiant attempt to keep her voice level. "I came back. I've been gone only two days, and I've been speaking with my mother."
He snarled, showing teeth, and the following growl vibrated. In the echoing halls, the growl was a continuing peal of thunder. Raven shielded herself only by instinct when the beast sprang.
Raven huddled in a small shield-sphere, shivering as blows rocked the surface. No one had ever made one of her creations shake so. She regretted her emotional freedom. She needed power, and she had no more. She couldn't keep herself safe, and calling for help through dim empathic links would take more energy than she had. If she was unconscious, even for as long as it would take for Starfire to fly to her aid- it was a lost cause.
She tumbled to the ground when he broke through. He pinned her before she could try running, with only one paw. She gulped when very sharp claws rested just below her neck. She knew that those claws could cut through solid wood. She looked the beast in the eyes. If he was going to kill her, she would rather see it coming than wait. He stared back at her. The only motions were breathing- Raven's quick and loud; the beast's slow and even.
"I came back for you," she said after a few minutes of silence. "I am sorry I left, but I made a promise. I've kept all of them."
He looked at her for another minute, remembering the smell of female and how she still didn't scream and hurt his ears, and she felt the pressure of claws on her throat before his clawed hand jerked away from her body. Raven took in a few deep, shaking breaths, reassuring herself that nothing was broken. She only looked at the hand he offered her. That was enough. Raven was tired of this, and never had been one for polite silence. She brought herself to her feet, leaning on carvings in the walls.
"That is enough," she said, shaking out her skirts and impatiently brushing her hair from her face. "I know you're a beast, I know you think differently than I do- but you can't be two inches from killing a girl, and then offer to help her stand up."
He was obviously confused, but she was not going to take to explain all of this in words that he would know. He had forgotten part of the lessons already, apparently. Raven knew what she had to say. She couldn't stay in this fairy tale all her life. "You're a nice guy- if you even are a guy- but your whole dreary and creepy act is not helping you out here. Someday, I'll need to go back again. I need to see my friends. I can't throw my friends, villain, and father out the window because you, the huge, green, and hairy, have a temper tantrum if I leave you alone for two days.
"This is my luck, though. Your tantrums are worse than mine," she said, ignoring a tinkle of china as she lost all control of her temper. She never had liked that teapot, and didn't know why someone kept a chipped teacup around. "You're as stubborn as I am, acting without thinking about consequences, and in all ways act too much like I do for me to be very comfortable with the idea. Isn't it just like me? I fall in love with the one guy my father never considered as a candidate for marriage."
Raven went back over her tirade. Drat. She should have known it would come to this. "Yeah, I guess I do love you. I like green, hairy isn't an issue, and I'm not the most social girl. I only need the occasional trip to the village, to assure my friends that I'm alive- and they wouldn't mind. They'll even come out to visit, if you wouldn't mind."
He was giving her his best quizzical look. Raven smiled. He had been hurt, and she knew that he wasn't the best at dealing with such strong emotion. "I'll find a way to explain this in our language, no matter how odd this is. Are you even my species? This is wrong on so many levels- figures, but at least I'll have an interesting life."
"Raven," he said.
She smiled, only a little sadly. She did wish that he could talk without so much effort. "You're going to hurt your throat, if you don't take it easy. I doubt you are my species, judging by the way your vocal cords are arranged- and your teeth are completely carnivorous. You'd best not bite your tongue."
"Love," he said, frustrated that he couldn't know all of her words. The syllable was distorted, but she knew what he meant.
"You do?" she asked, shy. "I didn't know if I was just being silly. I'm still terrified that I'll wake up at any moment and be home with a fever."
He shook his head fiercely. Words still escaped him, but maybe he could learn. Raven still was trying to learn the hunt-songs . . . maybe she could learn the easiest of melodies. They had the time.
Raven took one of his hands in both of her own, careful of the claws, and was considering how she would go about hugging him, if a kiss on the cheek was entirely impossible, when his skin started rippling. "Beast," she said, grabbing his hand tighter. She couldn't say anything else- words escaped her. She could feel his skin losing hair, muscles shrinking away, and bones twisting.
He howled, letting all know that he was in pain. Raven willed her white magic to work and only held onto the shifting hand harder. When the white finally came to her, she felt untapped power rush past boundaries- her father had warned her that extreme emotion could trigger powers, and she guessed that love and the fear of losing him were strong enough. He stopped howling, but he was growing smaller and smaller. Raven knew that she had overextended herself, and there was nothing else for it. Her last thought before falling was that the fainting couch was enacting its karmic revenge- well, actually, that just sounded dignified. Really, her thought before crumpling into an infuriatingly ladylike swoon (she always would say later that she had blacked out) was something along the lines of several expletives followed by the phrase "fainting couch"- but that's not very important.
Raven woke to someone hesitantly shaking her shoulders. She blearily opened her eyes, waiting for the blur to settle into a recognizable room. As soon as her eyes opened, the strange presence backed away suddenly. That made her struggle into sitting up- she wasn't that dangerous, after all. She would probably be able to stand, but that would be a challenge. The other person, of course, didn't need to know this just yet. Finally, her eyes and her mind made the proper connections, and she could see a gangly male watching her with a very worried look. He spoke before she could find words that would make any sort of sense.
"Miss! Are you alright?" he asked, forcing words past breathless worry.
She blinked. She was still in the great hall, and the fire was still out. She never had possessed incredible night vision, but she could tell that the man was exhausted by his posture. Raven never had been cheerful, coming out of a deep sleep- or unconsciousness brought on by hyper-extending herself. If that was the case, she could have been out for hours. "Why are you in this castle? It's not exactly in the way of anything." Maybe he had- no, don't think that, Raven said to herself. Pessimists get heart disease, remember? Calm down. Talking to herself was better than screaming at the poor stranger. She didn't have anything to back up the suspicion that something had happened to Beast.
"I was- around," he said evasively. "This is a dangerous place, miss. I wouldn't advise staying around here- there's a beast in this area, and he isn't very tame. He's hurt people, before- mostly to patrol his territory, but he can be mean."
That brought Raven to her feet. "I can look after myself, thank you," she said stiffly. She was close to losing her balance, but that was nothing. "Where is the beast you speak of?" she asked, fearing the worst.
"He's moved on, for now, but he'll be back eventually. He always is. It would be better if you moved on before then, miss. He and people don't get along very well- if you're still asking after him, I'd bet you haven't met him," the stranger said politely.
Raven wasn't in the mood for being polite. "I have met him. I've known him for two full weeks, and he never has hurt me." She would have been able to say that he had never laid a claw on her, but she had forgotten how much Beast used emotions. It wasn't his fault. He couldn't repress emotions any more than he could retract his claws.
"You were a curiosity, then. Even the most primitive of people kept entertainment about. It's best to move on, miss. He won't remember you," he said calmly.
Raven stepped closer, hating her weak legs. She had healed Beast, had talked to him, had flown after him on a hunt and felt the hunt-song ring through her- that meant something. "No, and I'll tell you something- I don't know who you are, and I won't bother to ask. I know him. I know Beast, and you can't tell me that you're some kind of expert on him. Two weeks isn't nothing- and this isn't about some kind of pet." The day had been too hard. She had almost lost him, he had almost hurt her, she had healed him when he hurt- she remembered flesh writhing beneath her fingers, but that had to be a hallucination. She felt the warm pressure in her eyes, but she would not cry in front of this stranger.
"I know too much about him to let you stay here, miss. This is a dangerous place, with him around. I don't know why he let you stay in his territory, but I won't let you remain when he could return," he said, uncomfortable with the idea of forcibly ejecting a young woman. That wasn't very polite.
"I know why he let me stay." She stepped forward, aggressive despite her lack of balance. "He loves me."
"Perhaps a beauty can love a beast, but he can't show such high emotion," the man said softly. "He isn't capable of loving. The most complicated emotions are how to pick a mate, which is probably what he meant through any actions you interpreted."
Raven was close enough now, but she didn't have the strength to shove him without toppling herself over. "He told me, and you can't unsay that. He talked to me- was he 'capable' of that? Beast is just as good as any man- and he's better than you. He only tried to get me to leave just once, and he felt remorse for that."
He looked at her, stunned. She couldn't have done better. If she had shoved him, he wouldn't have known that he hit the ground. "He- talked?"
"Yes, he did. You obviously are no help. I'm going to come back, every day, until he comes back. I know a little bit of tracking, and I don't think he can hide from me for too long. I don't think Beast would," she said, finding her center. She wouldn't be flying back to town, but she could manage a walk back to town if she moved slowly. "I know you only thought for my safety," she told the man, softening a little. He still was transfixed by the idea that Beast talked.
"He loses his memory, sometimes," the man said. "You won't find your Beast for a time, miss, but there are ways to call him back. I am sorry- but each time he reappears, he loses almost all memory."
Raven gave a small smile. She hadn't known that smiles could be sad. "I remember him, and that will have to be enough. Thank you, sir."
"I'm no sir, miss."
Raven rolled her eyes. "Listen to yourself. If I'm 'miss,' then you are 'sir.' Will that work?" The guy wasn't that bad, really- it was a natural reaction, after meeting Beast. Her friends had attacked Beast; this man only warned against him.
"I go by Gar, most times- it's short for a full name that I'd never saddle offspring with," he said quietly.
She held back a small smile at how shy he was. That wouldn't make him any less timid. She could start proving that she wasn't going to bite before they reached the other part of introductions. "You flinch whenever I move," she said before she could consider how forward she was being with a stranger. "I won't hurt you." Raven didn't move any closer to the stranger. In the dim light, she would be lucky to not find the biggest gaps in the flooring. Falling on him wouldn't get him to calm down.
"I'm more afraid of what I could do."
Raven frowned. "Okay, we're going to add a rule to this conversation. The next time you make a cryptic statement like that, I am going to get a full explanation. I'm not so easy to hurt, Gar. Let's trust each other- I'll trust you, you trust me, and that'll be enough."
He offered a small smile. "If you insist," he said with a world-weary expression so intense that it took her a moment to find the joke.
"I do," she said regally, playing along even before inspiration came to her. "Do you have a place to stay?" If he was loitering about old castles, he probably didn't have much of a home- if he had one at all. "Come to town with me- my mother has two rooms for boarders, and she's more interested in interesting conversation than pay for board. If you do dishes, she'll call it more than a fair trade."
"I have a place to stay, and it's better if I avoid towns," he said.
"What did I just say? You broke the only rule of this conversation. You could speak entirely in Pig Latin, for all I mind, but I've heard enough cryptic statements from you to last for at least another eight minutes," Raven said, overly exaggerating any exasperation.
"Then I'll just have to break the rules," he said. There was no trace of humor in his dry voice. She was losing him.
Raven took a risk. "Do you want me to leave?" she asked. Raven wouldn't intrude on his company. He knew that Beast maintained territory, and she was in no condition to protect anyone.
"That would be better."
Her hand was on his shoulder before he could turn away. "You don't want me to leave." It wasn't a question. If he could have used fewer words, he would have. "Gar, why do you want to be alone?"
He didn't answer, but he didn't move. Her hand was touching him- and he could almost remember the feel of cool fingers against his shoulder, just in that spot, soothing gently through thick fur. "I can be dangerous, Raven."
Her hand gripped his shoulder at that. She knew him, and he had proved it. Cold hope f"I never introduced myself."
"I don't remember anything but you. The beast almost hurt you, Raven- but you didn't hurt him. He was going to kill you for coming to his territory- and you didn't stop him from slicing you open," he accused.
"I didn't have the strength," she replied simply. "He did come close to killing me- but he didn't. Couldn't you tell that I understood? I put everything I had into healing you, when you changed." She could remember how his hand had felt close to normal when she passed out.
"That was the first time it didn't hurt, except the first few seconds, but it doesn't mean that I'll never change back. I can't stay with all the people, Raven. I'm not normal," he said in a rush.
"I have purple hair and purple eyes. I'm half-demon. My friends that came by- one of them is an alien. A man who is sometimes Beast will scare some of the villagers, but those will be the people still waiting for lightning to smite me. Tell me when you change- and we'll leave, and come back here. I won't leave you- that love business doesn't care about details," Raven said. "I'm not leaving you alone, like it or not."
"It's when I get too angry," he said finally. "If I can't control getting angry, I turn into a beast."
Raven wasn't going to listen to him start up a self-pity trip. "When I get angry, I get four glowing red eyes and a bit of super-special demonic strength. At that point, I usually begin to demolish the nearby architecture. I've taken down two taverns already- people who take bothering me a little too far usually retreat to places with ready alcohol."
"You- don't mind?"
Raven took his hand, remembering the contact from before. He was still Beast- but he was more than that. He was Gar. "I'll never mind, Gar, and that's a promise."
He paused for a second, remembering. "You always keep your promises." He watched her face light up. "I'm starting to remember, parts of it," he explained. When she shifted her arms, he guessed what she implied without needing any clarifications, and they hugged in the middle of the dance floor.
Raven held out a single present- a book of matches. "I brought it for the oil lamps, but it'll work just as well for the fire. Do you want to re-light the fire?"
"You can," he said, remembering the last time someone had lit it. "I'm still a little shaky on fine motor skills." His mind still reached for muscles that he didn't have, and coming back to being small was always a let-down- except that she hugged him easily, now, without working around an excess of hair and bulk. He did help her gather kindling, but he insisted that it was no tradition of his to light the fire. Instead, he watched as she touched a match to kindling. She didn't promise to stay in the castle with him. Raven promised to bring him to the world.
As the firelight hit them, Raven glanced to her left and tried to keep a relieved sigh quiet- but he had good hearing, and anyone would see her smile.
"What?" he asked.
"For a second, I was afraid you'd look normal- I fell in love with a green Beast, and it'd be kind of sad to end up with your average fairy tale male." Raven grinned. For a moment, she was positively impish- it was time to draw him out of his shell a little. "And what girl wouldn't like a guy with pointed ears?"
He flushed, bringing a tinge of pink-brown to his cheeks. "My mother used to say that I look like an elf."
"That's because you do," Raven said, so practically that he had to smile. "Let's go home, shall we? I know that my mother will love to meet you- and she'll probably give you the third degree about when you want a wedding as soon as you walk in the door. She likes planning weddings."
He froze. "We don't need one of those for a while, do we?"
Raven shook her head. "No, not for a long while- I just decided to warn you before she could start showing you fabric swatches." She shrugged. "We have plenty of time, and I think we've managed to avoid the more irritating clichés of romance- but I want one of them."
"Wh- what's that?" he asked. He wasn't sure if he could break into song, if that was what she was after. He remembered the technique of using vocal cords, but he wasn't practiced.
"A kiss, of course." Raven expected him to agree- but she still beamed when he did.
She spoke again only when he paused at the doorway leading out of the castle. "No matter what, Gar, I love you- what other people think does not matter. I wouldn't care if you ran about in skintight purple." She smiled at the look on his face. "I'm kidding, Gar- I know you have more fashion sense than that." She waited through the indignant tirade about fashion sense. He had found himself a fresh set of clothes before she had regained consciousness, as he explained with a very offended air, but knew she was joking even as he feigned a defense for himself. The slow smile spreading across his face nullified any falsely angry tone to his words.
In Which They Live Happily Ever After:
The narrator expresses her heartfelt regret, but no other phrase will work. They did, in fact, live happily ever after. Try something else- gleefully, pleasantly, or horribly ever after, but it just doesn't fit. There's nothing else to say, I guess, but