A/N: Okay, major cliffhanger last time and I couldn't bear to leave you guys hanging for too long. Tell me anything you liked/disliked. Constructive criticism is always helpful! (Note to miasopapia: thanks for your suggestion in the last chapter about the dialog. The more I think about it the more I don't like it either. Storing it away for future revisions!)
Chapter XX- Broken
Deep into the Forest by Michael Nyman
Gregory sat in his rooms long after the day had begun, thinking about his argument with Anne and his dream of her the night before. He felt guilty for saying the things he had. She was right of course. It wasn't her fault she was being kept in the dark, it was his. He had considered telling her everything the night of her arrival, explaining to her who he really was and why he was forcing her to come here. But he'd stopped himself as soon as he saw her. Gregory could still remember what she looked like that first time, worry and fear covering her face as candlelight flickered across her eyes, her long straight hair, changing them from black to brown to black again, pale fingers twitching in her lap. Now, looking down at his own monstrous hand he felt the same rush of inadequacy and shame he'd felt that night. It was bad enough, taking advantage of her brother's mistake and using it against them both to hold her hostage but to do so as a beast, as a monster... He had hardly been able to face her, let alone explain the reason she was here.
That same guilt and self loathing were present every time they sat down to dinner. He could feel her gaze on him constantly, taking in his features; his awful bent body, his terrible slitted eyes. And then the silence would consume them both. He never knew what to say and she refused to participate beyond a few casual niceties. More than anything, Gregory hated proposing to her. Hearing his rough animal voice growl out the words every night was enough to set his teeth on edge. But it was the only way out, for both of them.
Whatever you decide shutting yourself up in your room isn't helping matters any. He thought, tapping a finger against his chest. Walking to the door, Gregory decided to find Anne. He needed to speak to her, apologize for the other night at least and maybe… maybe try - in some small way, to tell her the reasons behind his actions.
As he reached the first floor a buzzing sound met his ears. Looking around for the source his head turned just in time to avoid the small insect that went whizzing past his face. He watched as the bug skidded to a stop in midair before coming towards him once more, circling his head. A flash of color caught his eye and Gregory recognized it as one of his seekers.
"What's gotten into you?" He wondered aloud as it continued its frantic humming. As if in answer the beetle raced away. With a growing sense of anxiety, Gregory followed after the mechanical creature, his slow steps turning into an all out sprint as he fought to keep up with the insect. Chest heaving from exertion the beetle stopped in front of the mausoleum Gregory's family had been buried in. He hadn't visited the crypt in over a decade and sometimes even thought of removing the entrance entirely but now the door was open, allowing a chill air to seep out. Moving forward cautiously Gregory suddenly heard a far off cry that made his blood run colder than the air in the catacomb. He'd never heard a voice full of more pure and unadulterated fear before in his life.
"Anne." He whispered in horror. Gregory leapt down the stairs on four legs, not even hesitating long enough for the beetle to show him the way.
The vines were pressing down harder now. Sobs choked Anne's throat as her lungs strained to let out the air they were holding. Had it been minutes or hours since she'd sent the little finder away? It didn't matter. Her last hope was gone. She could feel death was close by; piercing her through with a thousand needles, crushing her from the outside in. The fingers of her right hand twitched slightly in a last futile attempt to get free but it was no use. With a final whimper Anne's body slumped and her eyes closed. One final breath pressed out past her lips, no longer red or pink, but pale blue from lack of air.
Gregory's heart beat so fast he thought it might burst. Adrenaline coursed through him as he pushed himself to move faster. He could no longer hear the screaming. He thought there couldn't be any sound in the world worse than the cries of terror he'd heard moments before but he was wrong. The terrible silence that followed, bearing down on him from all sides, was a thousand times worse. Finally Gregory skidded to a stop and looked in horror at the scene that met his eyes. There was Anne, bloody and still, lying face down on the ground. Cords of ivy wrapped across her back, arms, and legs. Even more were now starting to creep forward, intending, it seemed, to bury her completely.
"STOP." Gregory screamed. It came out in a roar. Without meaning to a blinding flash of magic leaped away from him. It felt like it had been ripped from the very marrow of his bones. For one brief instant a bright green light filled the entirety of the crypt before being ripped down into the vines. Everything froze, even the few leaves that had begun to quiver in a faint draft went still. Rushing forward, Gregory tore through the vines and thorns, which, even now, where crumbling to brown dust under his claws. Trying hard not to slash through skin or cause any more damage, Gregory was finally able to free her body. Carrying her away he walked a few yards away before sinking to the ground. She wasn't breathing.
"Wake up Anne." He said, chest heaving, voice filled with forced calm. "Wake up." He repeated shaking her slightly in his arms.
"Anne, please." He whispered, trying not to panic, his breath coming faster now. "Please. Please wake up." Gregory tasted salt on his tongue and realized he was crying. "You can't die. Please. Please don't die." He shook her again, harder this time. He saw her face as it was last night, framed by moonlight. Her chin raised, a look of anger and determination in her eyes as she argued with him. He remembered the things he'd said to her and turned his face away, unable to stare at her lifeless body for another moment. "Oh god, please don't let her die."
Suddenly there was movement in his arms and Gregory heard a small shuddering breath that wasn't his own. One previously limp hand was now gripping his shirtsleeve. Opening his eyes he saw Anne staring up at him.
"Beast," She said, sounding shocked.
"Anne." Gregory said, letting out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. Suddenly she was crying. Arms wrapping across his shoulders, she held him as tightly as he had been clutching her a few seconds before, tighter even. "You found me. I was so afraid. I was so afraid you wouldn't be able to. I thought I was going to… Oh god, I almost…" She didn't finished but instead grasped him tighter, sobbing into his chest.
"It's alright, Anne." Gregory said, one hand stroking her hair, the other wrapped around her back. "It's alright." He repeated, as much for his benefit as her own. "Nothing happened. Nothing was going to happen. You're fine. You're fine."
They sat together for a few moments. Gregory rocking back and forth as Anne's tears lessened until they were nothing more than short, shaky, breaths.
"If you hadn't come…" Anne said, pulling away from him to look into his face.
"If I hadn't come you would've found a way out on your own." Gregory said, forcing his voice to be steady. "I just helped speed things along a bit. Right?"
Anne nodded her head, looking like she wanted to believe the lie as much as he did. But her eyes were still full of worry and unshed tears. "Right."
"Good." Gregory said, trying not to remember how still she had been when he'd first seen her. "Now let's go inside." He added, repositioning Anne in his arms before slowly getting to his feet. "I don't know about you, but I don't like the feel of this place."
"What makes you say that?" Anne said, giving a shuddery laugh.
Gregory shrugged as much as he could without jostling her. "You know I can't quite put my finger on it. Just a feeling I suppose." He looked down and gave Anne a tiny smile. Noticing the crooked angle of her leg the smile was replaced with a frown and he looked away.
"It's broken. Isn't it?" Anne whispered, noticing the direction of his glance.
"Perhaps." Gregory said, trying not to panic. It had been years since he'd been taught how to set a broken bone of any kind. Looking ahead he decided to focus instead on getting them both back to the castle in one piece. The rest could wait until then.
Bringing Anne into the dining room Gregory hooked his foot around a chair leg and pulled it towards him before settling her gently down. Blood was on her face and arms but the cuts didn't seem to be too deep. There were just a lot of them. With a small flick of his fingers and wrist a round table appeared at his side. On it was a large glass bowl full of warm water, bandages, and a bottle of brandy.
"Now." Gregory said, pulling another chair away for himself and sitting down across from Anne. "Tell me Anne, what hurts most?"
"My leg." She answered with forced calm. "My leg and my back."
Gregory nodded, slowly lifted her right foot up onto his knee, and began removing the laces from her boot. Being as careful as possible he slid the shoe off and pulled away the stocking underneath to reveal Anne's ankle had swollen to twice its size and was turning a reddish purple color.
"Oh no." Anne moaned at the sight of her mangled leg.
"It's okay Anne. It's alright." He said quickly. Without thinking, he laid a hand on her bare knee. "Thousands of people have broken their legs and I've never heard of a single person dying from it."
Giving a watery smile Anne nodded and Gregory proceeded to bandage it up. "Couldn't you-" She stopped.
"Yes?" Gregory prompted. It made him feel horrible to see her so sad and worried, whatever she wanted he was willing to do,
"Well, you can do magic right? Couldn't you just… snap your fingers together and fix it?" She asked.
Gregory cocked his head to the side and stared at her ankle, considering. He had thought of doing this initially but he was afraid that if he did something even worse would happen and he would somehow end up crippling her permanently. "In theory, yes." He said slowly. "But I've never done anything like that before. And even if I had, it would've been with a piece of wood or a pane of glass, something I could discard if it wasn't repaired properly. I can't afford to do the same thing with you."
Anne nodded, biting her lower lip as Gregory finished wrapping her foot and ankle, careful not to let his claws scrape against her bare skin. "Are the bandages too tight?" He asked, inspecting his handiwork.
"No, no they feel fine." She said nodding. "Thank you."
Standing Gregory gently laid her foot down on the cushion and covered her leg with the tattered remains of her skirt. Walking over to stare at her back Gregory tried to ignore the way her fingers wrapped around the base of the chair when he came near her or how her shoulders tensed when he gathered her hair up in his hands before laying it down over her shoulder. Such thoughts were driven out of his head, though, when he saw the state of her back. The fabric of the dress was only being held together by threads in some places and her skin looked to be in the same damaged state. The cuts weren't cuts here but wounds, long gashes that slashed across her body. Blood was still oozing out of a few of them and he could see thorns stuck in some of the bigger lashes. Involuntarily, Gregory sucked in a quick breath between his clenched teeth.
Anne must have heard the noise. "What is it? Is it very bad?" She asked, voice shaking.
With a wave of his hand the tablecloth on the large dining table disappeared. "Anne I'm going to lay you on the table, alright?" He said, ignoring the question. "It will be easier for me to clean the cuts that way."
Turning her head to look at the table, then at him, she nodded and Gregory picked her up again and transferred her body to its worn wooden surface. Carefully, she shifted herself onto her stomach, her injured foot dangling off the side, face turned away from him. Standing on her left, a pair of glittering scissors appeared in his hand and he cut away what was left of the fabric covering the area. Waving his other hand the chandelier above them filled with light and a rattling sound filled the room as the fixture descended from its place on the ceiling, stopping a few feet above Gregory's head. The scissors in his hand were transformed into tweezers and Gregory leaned down to begin. But before he could Anne's voice whispered to him.
"Please," She said. "Please, tell me what you're going to do."
Choosing his words carefully, Gregory answered, "Some of the wounds have thorns stuck in them. I need to… extract the thorns before I bandage the cuts." What sounded like a muffled whimper escaped from Anne's mouth but all she did was nod. Straightening a little Gregory gave her shoulder a small squeeze. "Everything will be fine Anne. I promise." Another nod. Gregory worked mostly in silence, punctuated by a few soft gasps every now and then. Save for once. Pulling a particularly large thorn away Gregory started as Anne's voice echoed out across the room, her curses retreating into the walls until the air was still once more.
"Sorry." Anne said, sheepishly.
"That's alright." Gregory said, smiling a little as he cleaned some of the blood away. "I didn't think ladies knew those sorts of words."
"The ones with older brothers do." She said, turning her head to look at him, wincing and smiling at the same time.
Gregory didn't reply. He thought of his one encounter with that brother. Remembered the fierce, almost feral, way the man had fought and stood his ground when confronted with something as horrible and monstrous as himself. How willing, how completely ready, he had been to die for his sister. The same exact way she was for him. As Gregory continued to remove the thorns from Anne's back, sop away the excess blood, he began to wonder what would have happened if it had been Richard, not Thomas, who was being threatened by a monster. What if Gregory's life was the bargaining chip that ensured Richard would survive? What choice would his own brother have made? The fact that Gregory didn't know the answer, would never know it, was somehow worse than if he did. His brother had betrayed him yes, turned him into a monster and walked away without a second glance. But he hadn't killed him. That was something he had thought of, obsessed over, throughout the years. If all that power, all that authority a kingship promised had been so appealing to Richard that he was willing to commit treason against his own flesh and blood, why not take that next, final step? Why leave such a frayed thread hanging? Gregory knew what he wanted the answer to be, he just didn't know if it was the real one.
Coming back to the present, he pulled away the last of the thorns and began to work on sanitizing the wounds. Five of them would need stitches. As the utensils altered their shape in his hands Gregory explained what he was about to do.
"And…have you ever done this before?" Anne asked apprehensively. No. Gregory thought to himself. Not for a very long time at least. Not at a moment when it really mattered.
"Oh hundreds of times." Gregory answered, trying to keep his voice light. "I could probably do it in my sleep if I wanted to. You know there was a single year when I did nothing but needlepoint?"
Anne, her face still turned towards his, smiled. "Needlepoint?" She said, eyebrows raised in disbelief, but willing to play along.
"Indeed." Gregory said, mock seriously as he threaded the needle and made the first incision. Anne's smile instantly disappeared and he saw her hands quickly clench themselves into fists.
"And not just needlepoint." He said, trying to distract her with more of his nonsense. "I've covered whole rooms with everything from cross-stitch to crochet."
Her smile returned briefly as he tied the thread off on one jagged wound before moving quickly onto the next one. "Even the walls?"
"Especially the walls."
"You know I've always wondered what one should cross-stitch onto a wall." She said, brow furrowed like she was straining to find an answer.
There was a moment of silence as he thought before the answer came to him. "Curse words."
Anne laughed, he didn't think he'd ever really heard her do that before. He thought about how nice it would be to hear that laugh again. "Yes, nothing says 'hospitality' quite like a slew of decorative profanities." She said as Gregory tied off the last of the stitches.
"My thoughts exactly." He replied. Removing the heavy cloak he'd been wearing Gregory used his claws to rip the sleeves away before draping it over Anne's bare back and shoulders. "There." He said as the folds of cloth settled into place around her. "You can get up now if you like."
Slowly Anne pushed her aching body upright with one hand, clutching the dark velvet cloak with the other. Alternating her grip on the fabric from one hand to the next, she maneuvered her arms through the frayed holes on either side of the cloak until everything was covered except her arms, bloody, bruised, and definitely worse for wear.
"Do you think I might have some of that?" She asked, nodding at the square bottle of brandy cluttered amongst bloody discarded cloths that she tried hard to ignore.
The Beast pulled a small tumbler from… was it thin air? Up his sleeve? Anne was too tired to pay attention. An ache was starting to expand out across her forehead and her mouth felt dry and thick at the same time. A part of her knew water would probably have been the wiser choice right now but she wanted the burn of alcohol, the warm seeping numbness it would fill her with. Not even the fountain of youth could compete with that. The Beast poured a glass without comment and handed it over to her before kneeling on the hard stone floor so that his head was level with her waist. The bloody cloths on the small table disappeared and were replaced with new ones. They smelled of soap and cold, winter air. Soaking one in water the Beast began to wipe away the dried blood and dirt from her arms and face, stopping every so often to bind up any still bleeding scrapes. She was getting used to his hands against her skin, getting used to all of him really.
"Where did you learn to do all this?" She asked.
The Beast glanced up at her. His hands still working to fix her up, make her whole again.
My father taught me some of it, others taught me more." He said, his voice growling out the words. "He had a kind heart, my father. He thought that if you were going to learn how to break something you should know how to fix it as well."
Swiping the cloth against her face one final time, the Beast threw it onto the small table with the rest of the supplies before making it all disappear. The only evidence left that anything unpleasant had occurred was now partially hidden from view by Anne's tattered skirts and the Beast's torn cloak.
"He would be ashamed of how I've acted with you." The Beast said with a sigh, rubbing a hand against his face before turning to sit a few feet away from her on the table. After a moment he continued, "Anne I've been thinking over what you said to me last night and I just wanted to say I'm sorry. It's not fair of me to keep you in the dark about the reasons I have you here, much less expect you to be content with no explanation whatsoever."
Anne held her breath, stomach tightening as she waited to see what his next words would be.
"I've been in this place for a long while now." The Beast said tonelessly, looking at the ground as he spoke. "And the longer I'm here the more I feel as if I'm in a state of war with myself. Because I'm not a person. And yet…a part of me is. I can think, speak, make things. But despite all of that, as hard as I try, I sometimes feel that human side of me slipping away." The Beast's voice was no longer calm and neutral anymore, but slow, worn out and shaking. Anne wondered how it would feel, to be so at odds with herself. To lay in bed each night, afraid to fall asleep because she might not even remember herself in the morning. The Beast was hunched over himself now, hands clenched together as if he were praying.
"I can't bear to think of what would happen when I lose that part of me completely. Because it would mean I was no longer… whatever this is." He continued, gesturing to himself. "I'd just be a monster- a monster living in a castle." He ran a hand over his face before turning to look at her. "But with you here," the Beast said, voice growing hopeful. "I feel as if… as if that human side of me has a chance now. With you here," he repeated, standing up and walking a few paces away from her. "Speaking isn't as much of a struggle as it used to be, I don't have to remind myself to walk on two legs instead of four. That's why I need you here Anne." He said, turning to look at her. "To remind me of myself. I know it's not enough. It doesn't explain everything. But-"
"It's enough." Anne interrupted.
"Is it?" The Beast asked, standing very still.
Anne drummed her fingers against the table. Thinking over all that he'd told her. "Yes." She replied, nodding. "For now, it's enough."
The Beast's shoulders relaxed and he looked as tired as she felt and for a few moments there was only silence in the room as they stared at one another. The Beast looked away first saying, "I'll help you upstairs, if you like. I don't think I know of anyone right now who probably needs rest more than you."
Anne nodded, smiling gratefully. "Yes, I don't think hopping would be such a good idea anyway." She joked.
"No. Probably not." He said as he walked towards her. Before he could lift her up though, Anne took one of his clawed hands in both of her own.
"Thank you." She said, abruptly, looking into his eyes. "I don't think I said that before, but thank you for saving me."
"You're welcome." He said, so close that she could hear his voice, like thunder, thrumming through her. She gave his hand a squeeze before letting go. Leaning forward the Beast carefully wrapped her into his arms, holding her tight as he walked up the stairs and into her room. After lowering her gently into bed he reached into his pocket to deposit her small mechanical beetle on the nightstand beside her.
"If you need anything just send it off to find me. I think we can trust it to work fast enough." The Beast said, smiling a little.
Laughing Anne nodded and the Beast walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
As Anne drifted off to sleep, the Beast's cloak filling her nose with the smell of soap and cold, winter air, her last thought was of broken things. The Beast is broken. A voice murmured into her ear. What could I do to fix him?
The setting sun found Gregory standing in front of his family's crypt, the light casting the bone white stones in hues of red and pink. Holding out a hand a green light sparked as he ran it across the door frame. As he watched, the handle and door disappeared completely until he was staring at a flat expanse of marble wall. "I won't let you hurt her Richard." He said, walking away from the structure as the sun slid down beneath the horizon. "Not again."
Inside the crypt the ivy slowly slid out across the floor, twisting itself across Gregory's own grave before rising up and taking root in the large tree above, threatening to envelop it completely.
A/N: So I hope no one had any qualms about Anne being in a sort of "damsel in distress" situation. I know some people dislike that in books, think it's unrealistic or something. But I feel like it's equally unrealistic to have a character that never needs any help at all. It also gave me a chance to toy with Gregory's role in the story too. I think it's difficult for him especially b/c he used to be the "knight in shining armor", being a king and all, but he's since been reduced to playing the evil dragon. Anne definitely sees him as the villain and I think a part of him was starting to view himself as one too. So this whole scene is about Anne's viewpoint on Gregory changing and giving Gregory hope that he isn't really the villain of the story.
I wanted to keep the conversation in these scenes fairly light as opposed to being too romantic. I feel like these two are still in the early stages of getting to know one another. Having them constantly looking with passion and longing into each other's eyes or whatever would be rushing all that a bit. My idea of Gregory is that he used to be a really lighthearted, mischievous type when he was younger but everything he's gone through has buried that part of him away. Now, with Anne here, it's sort of resurfacing again. I hope that was conveyed well enough in the writing. I hate it when the "Beast" character is constantly gloomy and depressed so I figured why not change it? All this first aid stuff was originally supposed to happen when Anne was asleep and she'd wake up afterwards but I felt this way gave them both a longer opportunity to talk, also (contrary to Hollywood's take on how being unconscious works) being out for hours like that usually means brain damage and Anne's been through enough without that, don't you think?
Speaking of first aid… Watched a lot of suture tutorials to help me figure out how Gregory might be able to stitch Anne up without making a mess of it with his animal claws. If you've ever had stitches done or seen someone do them you'll know that doctors pretty much use two sets of tweezers in both hands to do all the stitching and knotting, not their hands. Know from personal experience what it looks (and feels) like to break a leg so that part was easy. Just in case anyone was wondering.