CH 1: Beauty and the Beast

Willie Loomis descended the basement stairs with trembling limbs, the tray of food for Barnabas' prisoner shaking between his hands as he ran his tongue over his injured lip and shuddered. The very recollection of how he'd received that cut made his stomach do several agonizing flip-flops, his eyes closing briefly as he mentally told himself that this time he would not talk to the girl.

Sure, all she had asked for was an extra blanket, but Barnabas had found out, and then...

Willie whimpered. It was almost as if he could feel his importunate overseer's eyes boring into his drained soul, excavating him to the very core until there was nothing left but a shell of the man that he had once been. He was different now, and he knew it - Vicki Winters had often remarked on the fact as well as several other townspeople

of Collinsport. God, how he wished it wasn't so - he'd give anything to be a carefree ruffian again that aimlessly roamed the earth. Gambling, smoking, blowing money with loose women - all of that was in the past now and he...and he...

"Willie?"

The sandy-haired blonde jolted to attention, practically dropping his tray in the process. "M-Maggie!" he gasped, nearly falling over due to his utmost relief. Suddenly growing angry, he growled out, "Dammit, don't do that, again! I ain't even supposed ta be talkin' to ya, so kindly get back from the door so I can give ya your dinner."

"I'm not hungry" Maggie returned tartly, her dark eyes glittering defiantly as she spun about on her heel and sank back down onto her poor excuse of a bed. As she did so, Willie became subconsciously aware of the fact that an indecent amount of her creamy-white thighs were exposed, yet the primordial portion of his brain failed to register the rather lewd imagery at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite; he continued to gaze upon the expanse of flesh as if it were a mere presentation that he got to experience firsthand every single day of his life.

Shaking his head, Willie began to tremble as he set the tray down on the small crate beside Maggie's cot, inwardly wondering what in God's name was wrong with him. Had he been in this situation two months earlier without Barnabas, he would've jumped at the opportunity to have his way with the dark-haired vixen right then and there, but now... Oh, God, what was wrong with him? He no longer held any innermost desires like any normal man his age, nor any provocative thoughts like the ones he used to conjure up about most of the women of Collinsport. This very admission alone made him want to retch, yet he held his ground and placed his hands on his hips in what he meant to come off as some sort of pathetic intimidation.

"You'd better eat that, ya hear?" Willie warned, waving toward the tray with one of his calloused hands. "Barnabas'll be pretty ticked if he finds out you're still starvin' yourself."

Maggie immediately looked away, folding her hands over her petite bosom as she did so. "I don't care, Willie...by this point I want to die."

"Aw, c'mon, Maggie, don't say that, I-"

"What do you care?" she seethed, turning on him in an instant. "I'm sure Mr. Collins is paying you quite handsomely for keeping me here. He is, isn't he?"

Willie visibly winced. God, he wished.

Suddenly coming to the realization that he was doing exactly what Barnabas had told him not to do, the servant bit his lip and immediately turned away. "I-I gotta go" he stammered, hurriedly moving for the door.

Maggie, however, was surprisingly much faster. She wedged her lithe body in-between his and the heavily-bolted door, her dark eyes alive and demanding as she shook her head in discouragement. "No, Willie" she warned, "you aren't leaving this cell until you do as I say."

Willie balked. There was no way in hell that he was going to take orders from two people! Taking her by the arm, he tried pulling her out of his inevitable path, but the dark-haired beauty was surprisingly strong; that, and she happened to have her free hand wrapped firmly about the bars of the door.

"C'mon, Maggie, be reasonable!" Willie begged, tugging at her once more, yet to no avail.

"I already told you my terms!" she insisted, by now positively choleric. "When you agree to hear them, I'll let go!"

Willie frowned deeply, yet it was quite obvious that his resolve was rapidly caving in due to the fear of being caught. It was almost dusk...

Releasing her with a grunt, the servant stepped back and impatiently motioned toward her with his hand. "Well?" he demanded. "Go on, out with it, will ya? I ain't got all day!"

"What, do you have other women to kidnap?" Maggie snarled, immediately regretting it the moment Willie's eyes sparked with an emotion she'd never before seen within their brilliant depths.

"What did you say?" he hissed, seizing her by the shoulders before giving her a violent shake. "Huh!? Care ta run that by me again, or are ya too scared now thatcha know I'm not takin' crap from nobody no more?"

"WILLIE!"

The blonde froze, his throat immediately closing off as he felt as if he had swallowed his own tongue. Barnabas...oh, God, he was there! And he...he had seen!

In one last attempt at salvaging his chances of survival, he spluttered, "B-B-Barnabas! I-I was jus' tellin' the girl how she should be nicer to ya since-"

"Desist your pathetic excuses!" Barnabas growled, his coal-black irises simmering as he opened the cell entryway with one full swing. The door reverberated off the opposite wall with a dull 'bang', Willie trembling as he released Maggie and backed away from his overseer toward her cot. Barnabas, however, was far from through with him.

"What did I tell you earlier about conversing with Miss Evans?" he demanded, his typically suave demeanor materializing and leaving behind something cruel and demonic in its place. When Willie failed to answer, he continued, "I believe it was something along the lines of no conversation, whatsoever, perhaps? If Miss Evans has a question, she can take it up with me."

Maggie watched on with fearful eyes as Barnabas finally entered the cell, Willie pleading in vain as his master seized him by the throat and lifted him a good ten inches off the ground.

"Surely you cannot disagree that you must be punished, Willie?" Barnabas countered, giving him a more powerful squeeze about the windpipe for added measure.

Willie could only choke and sputter in return, his eyes nearly boggling out of his head as he swiped at his overseer's grasp amidst his traumatic desperation. He had to get out - he wasn't ready to die, yet!

Before he could react, however, Maggie hollered viciously from behind, "Enough, Barnabas! Let him go!"

The vampire turned about in an instant, dropping Willie with an un-exultant thump due to being caught off guard. "I beg your pardon, Miss Evans?" he demanded, his eyes narrowing as he slowly and deliberately strode toward her.

"What, do you mean to tell me that you are not only incredibly rude, but deaf, as well?" Maggie shot back, inwardly realizing that she was treading severely dangerous waters. When Barnabas released an unattractive snarl, she continued, "If it will end your incessant cruelty to those who don't deserve it, I suppose that I will have no choice but to marry you... It may not be what I wish, but I feel that it's my duty."

In an instant, Barnabas' ireful demeanor changed, his brows quirking ever-so-slightly as he paused amidst his sudden state of shock. "Oh?"

Maggie briefly locked eyes with Willie, only to immediately return her attention back toward her captor before she nodded stiffly.

Appearing to be pleased, the vampire briefly eyed his servant still lying on the floor, then ordered gruffly, "Willie! Go up to Josette's room and gather all of the needed provisions...we have a wedding to prepare."

Willie staggered up to his feet and hurried toward the door, but as he did so he couldn't help but cast Maggie a curious look. Why had she done it? Why in God's name would she sacrifice her freedom at the drop of a hat for something so trivial as an end to Barnabas' cruelty?

As he did so, however, he suddenly realized that Maggie was returning his gaze. With her portentous look he also knew that her decision wasn't because of him...

A/N: Hi there, and thanks for reading. :) I truly hope it wasn't too fast in getting to the point of action, so to speak - it's how I envisioned it since I actually wrote this all up this evening. I hope it doesn't show. :-/ And no, Maggie hasn't agreed to marry Barnabas out of love, but…well…you'll see! That is, if you review! Thanks! ;0)