Subtext, but only if you squint. I don't normally write Red, so I guess this may be odd. It was a request! So. :D


Sweeter Than Salt
The proper way of offering courtesy: the beast's bride welcomes a returning guest.
She doesn't look like the kind of girl who asks for roses.

This is what Red thinks when she hears the story, when she retraces the path of their journey through wood and bush and bracken. (She corrects that thought: it was never their journey. It was simply November's, and she and the cat and the girl with no hands were simply brought along with it.) She is the hunter, home from the hill, and she is bone-tired and time-weary and wistful for rest.

She is also uncertain as to what exactly it is she's doing in the castle of a prince (who became a beast who became a man), being offered sweet-smelling tea by a white-fingered girl (who became a princess(no) who became a queen).

My husband's away, Belle says wryly, but you're more than welcome to stay the night.

No, Red remembers suddenly, it probably has something to do with the rain beating down on the castle's roof, and the way her coat has had to be taken away and draped across a rack to dry-- not far, never far; she growls when the servants attempt to take it out of her sight, and she sees the queen shake her head and bid them to leave it in the room. It's still wet, she can see, hanging limply on the bars like the discarded skin of some great creature, and she nearly laughs, because it is one-- in a way.

Though she's no less a beast even without it.

Red watches the woman on the couches on the other side of the hearth, reading a book as if having hunters collapse on her doorstep is an event that happens every day. For all Red knows, it might be. This is the same woman who hugged a faux-dying beast and promised to marry him, after all; everything compared to that must seem utterly bland, not at all shocking.

Belle glances up with lips pursed into a cupid's-bow smile, as if she knows the turn Red's thoughts have taken, but she does nothing but gesture at the dress that clings wetly to Red's form.

"Perhaps you should change out of those, or you'll get ill."

She looks down with some disinterest at the material that clings to her, soaking its borrowed moisture into the covers of the duvet. Ah, she thinks, with a distant sense of regret. It's made of velvet. And, thanks to her, most probably ruined. Of course, it's too late to do anything to reverse that now, so all Red does (with an effort greater than she thinks the action merited) is push herself off the cushions and onto her feet.

"Yes."

They are alone, and she feels no shame in picking at the buttons along her front and peeling the wet cloth down, off whitewashed skin stretched over knotted bones. Before the castle's queen, the quiet girl who refused to flinch at the sight of a man's wickedness turned inside out for all to see, she has nothing she needs to hide.

She does not know when Belle's hands join hers, but they push off the last of her sodden skirt together, leaving Red in her boots and the worn cotton of her shift.

The fur Belle wraps around Red's shoulders smells of vellum and ink.

"Let's get you to bed."