AN~ I love this story a lot, and I worked hard on it for a long time. I'd appreciate anything you have to say about it.
"Will you marry me?" he asked her as she stood up after dinner.
She stared at him in horror. Certainly the palace was beautiful and she loved it, but he was... well, look at him!
"Oh, what shall I say?" she asked, half joking, half horrified. Shall you eat me if I say no?
He could have been smiling, she supposed, though she couldn't see it under all that fur.
"Answer me truthfully," he told her, and the smile became evident in that deep, deep voice, "I promise not to eat you if you give me an answer I dislike."
He'd heard her unasked question, then. Embarrassed and relieved, she ran from the dining room to her bedroom, calling "No!" behind her as she went.
Again, when she stood up from the dinner table, he asked, "Will you marry me?"
"You asked that yesterday," she answered carefully.
"And if you don't say yes," he responded, "I shall most likely ask you again tomorrow. Will you?"
"No," she told him, and left quickly, still afraid of his wrath. Oh, what someone so big could do to someone like me!
"Will you marry me?" he asked the question in the same even voice he'd asked it the previous two days.
"You asked me that yesterday," she told him.
"Yes," he answered.
"And you'll ask it again tomorrow," It wasn't a question.
"Unless you say yes today."
Why was he always so calm? It was infuriating, the way he never seemed to get angry.
"I… no," she hesitated, wanting to ask him, but not quite brave enough.
"Very well," he responded, monotone, as usual.
"Will you marry me?"
"How can you always be so calm?" She'd spent all day preparing to ask him that, and she was proud of how calm she herself managed to sound. Still… She waited tensely for his response. What if he got angry?
"I…" he paused, thinking, "I've been this way for a very long time. And it's taught me patience. I will ask again and again until you either say yes or one of us dies."
"That's… morbid," she noted, "But… well. I admire that sort of persistence. Don't you get discouraged, though? Or angry?"
He smiled, and this time, she could tell what it was, because those big green eyes of his grew smaller, and the bottom lids curved up.
"Ah, what is life without hope?" he asked the air, "It is spring without flowers, or the night without stars," He straightened, and the smile dropped away. "Without hope," he told her seriously, "I'd have wasted away to a true beast long ago. Thus, I do not allow myself to give up wishing for things I desire, to preserve my own sanity."
"And anger?" she asked quietly, wondering for what must have been the hundredth time what he was.
"Anger is more difficult to deal with," he told her. "But… I manage. Because my anger, too, is… inhuman. And my greatest fear is to lose my humanity. So I must control my anger."
"Ah," she said, even more quietly. He'd shared so much more than she expected. Or had he? She'd wanted an answer, and she hadn't expected him to lie to her…
"Besides," he said, gazing at her sadly, "the last thing I wish to do is hurt you. And I'm so large; I could break your bones without meaning to, in a fit of rage. And you never answered my question."
"I cannot," she said, still thinking.
"Cannot answer, or cannot marry me?"
"Cannot…" she paused, confused, then, "both. Goodnight, Beast."
"Will you marry me?" he asked again, and his voice was still flat. But the flatness of his voice was more purposeful, less natural than before.
"No," she told him, and for the first time, she looked into his face as she spoke.
"Will you marry me?"
"My answer has not changed," she told him, and again she looked into his face.
Days 7, 8, 9, 10.
"Will you marry me?" he asked, and asked, and asked again.
"No." She told him the same thing every night, though she could no longer look into his face while she did it.
Again he asked her, "Will you marry me?"
"You always ask me that, and I always give you the same response!" she sighed, avoiding the question. It hurt too much. "Why? Why must you ask me to marry you? You do so much, give me so many things, almost everything I ask for, and you only ask me to do things when it's absolutely important, so this must be, but you won't explain why!" She was almost in tears, much to her chagrin.
"Why does a man ever ask a woman to marry him?" he countered her question with one of his own.
Oh, but she knew hedging when she heard it, now!
"Love," she told him. "But we knew each other for the space of a few hours when you first asked me. I have never known people to fall in love in a single day, and I have seen many fall in love."
"You haven't read the old tales, then," was his response, "The cinder-maid who fell in love with a prince after three dances… or just one, sometimes."
"That's a fairy story," she told him, "Those things don't happen in real life. Besides, you are… not a man. And I— I am not yet a woman."
"And we have both successfully avoided answering the other's questions," he said, and in that moment, they understood each other. She left that night without refusing him.
"Will you— " he began.
"No," she cut him off before he could finish, turning to leave
"Very well," he said, nodding his acceptance. "I can wait."
"I know," she whispered to the door, "but it's pointless."
"Will you marry me?"
"No. Nor will I marry you tomorrow," she said.
"Goodnight," she said quietly.
"Goodnight." He didn't ask her. She'd already answered.
"Will—" he began,
"Let's go for a walk," she interrupted. "I'm in the mood to look at the roses."
"Fine," he smiled slightly, and stood. He took four huge strides from his end of the table to hers, and pulled back her chair.
"Thank you," she smiled up at him, standing.
They walked out to the garden together, not touching, but not purposely avoiding touch, either. When they reached the rosebushes, she sat down on one of the many stone benches, staring.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked her suddenly, after a long stretch of silence.
"The roses started it all," she told him, "This whole… everything, started because of roses. Or my portion of it did, anyway. I don't know about yours. But if I hadn't wanted a rosebush so badly, to remind me of my old life, of my mother, then my father would never have picked your rose, and he would simply have come here and left… I would still be at home, working away, the same thing, day after day after day. And you would be alone."
"You would be with other people, normal ones," he reminded her, "Not living in an empty castle, with no company but a beast."
It was the first time either of them had given voice to what he truly was, perhaps the first time she had allowed herself to think of him as such in his presence, and she paused, then said, "I… I have been happy here. Yes, there are things I miss about my old life, but there is nothing I can do about what has happened now. And… I think I am glad, all in all. That I can ease your loneliness; that I'm doing something useful; that I am having an adventure of sorts."
"I wish that you could be truly happy here," he said softly, "Not simply content with your lot. I would do anything to make you happy, beautiful. Will you marry me?"
"I can- will not," she said equally softly, squeezing her eyes shut, wondering why she felt like crying. "I'm sorry."
They sat in silence for a time, again, before he said, "They started it for me, too. The roses."
She looked up at him curiously.
"You said they'd started this journey for you," he explained, "It's how my transformation began, as well."
"Would you… can you tell me?" she asked. "It's not a crucial portion of the spell, is it?"
"No," he said, "but it is rather painful."
"You don't have to tell me," she cut in hurriedly, "I was simply curious."
"I shall tell you," he said, looking at the rosebush, "When I was younger, I was… not like I am now. I was cruel, selfish, and entirely too convinced of my own importance. And one night a fairy in disguise came to the door and offered me a rose in return for shelter. I refused, and she cursed me. I became… this."
She faltered for words, searching for something—anything—to say to make him feel better, but could think of nothing, so instead she simply put her hand on his shoulder comfortingly.
They stayed there for a time, before he stood and said, "Let me escort you to your room."
"Will you marry me?"
Dinner had barely begun when he asked the question. He sounded eager, almost hopeful, this time, and she hated to hurt him, but…
They ate in silence until he asked, "Would you marry me if I was… not this?"
She opened her mouth, then closed it. Opening it again, she said, "I don't know. If you were not this, would you still be the man you used to be? The cruel one you described to me?"
"Perhaps," he said, "but we shall never know, shall we?"
"Then we shall never know my answer," she said, "but for the question I think you wanted to ask… No. It is not your looks that keep me from saying yes."
"I see," he said, deflated, and not another word was exchanged through the meal.
Day 17, 18, & 19.
He asked the question tentatively again, saying "Will you marry me?" almost as a whisper, as if he saw the pain in her eyes and knew his question was the cause of it.
Her response was just as quiet, a small, sad "No," the necessary, sad end to an otherwise happy day.
"Will you marry me?" he asked, sad and quiet, as the day before.
"I cannot," she told him, defeated, her hand on the edge of the door.
"You said cannot," he pointed out, "It has never been cannot before. Only will not."
"And that is it!" she cried desperately, suddenly full of energy, "I cannot! I should have told you the first night you asked. I cannot marry you. Ever. As much as it pains me to refuse you."
"I… I am promised to another," she said, and left the dining hall.
She hadn't seen him the whole day, and when she got to dinner, she was a little frightened. What if he was angry? Or worse, what if she had hurt him so much he never wanted to see her again?
But there he was at dinner, and he asked, "Will you marry me?" in a flat tone that displayed none of his emotions.
"You know my answer," she told him, sitting at the table.
Again, it was he who broke the silence. "Tell me about him. Your betrothed."
"He is handsome enough, I suppose," she said, "though it was never his looks that attracted me to him. He is kind, friendly, capable, the second son of the lord over my family's home. He works with hunting dogs and falcons, and even if he weren't nobility, he would be able to care for himself and a family easily. He befriends everyone he meets, and he can—could always make me laugh," she finished sadly.
He stared at her for several minutes as she picked at her food, then said, "Go back to him,"
"What?" she asked, looking up in shock.
"Go. Return. Visit him."
"You would… let me do that?" she asked, breathless.
He smiled at her sadly. "You have not been my prisoner since that night you yelled at me, my beauty. Go back to your beloved, and stay as long as you like. But… know that if you don't return within a week, I shall die. I fear I cannot live without you anymore."
"But that is… that isn't fair!" she cried. "I can stay as long as I like but if I stay for more than a week, you'll die!"
"That is the way it is," he said sadly, "I will not force you back here. My life is in your hands."
She looked at him sadly, faced with an impossible choice. But… she must go back. If just to end things. She could be back in far less than a week.
She smiled at him sadly. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."
Day 22 & 23.
She dreamed of him that night, and the next night. After a full day home with her family, she dreamed of nothing but her beast. Not of her family and their her return, not of the meal her sister had cooked, not of the man she would be seeing soon, but of her big, dark monster, asking her to marry him again.
She woke up before she could answer, both nights.
"Will you marry me?" her neighbor asked her sister.
She stopped before she opened the door when she heard those oh-so-familiar words, then leaned against the side of the house, gasping for breath. Her beast had asked her that. And she had turned him down. What had she been thinking?
Then she stopped. When had he become her beast?
That was when she firmed her resolve. She had been putting off visiting her fiancé, postponing her decision, but now her mind was made up. She would end it. Tomorrow.
She was at her fiancé's house, and she was… almost ready to tell him she couldn't marry him any longer. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door, then pushed it open.
Inside, her fiancé was kneeling in front of a very pretty, delicate girl, holding out a ring.
She laughed, then said, "Well, I suppose this is ironic, in a sense."
He turned, standing quickly. "What- I- they said you were dead."
She smiled sadly, saying, "No. Not dead. Simply imprisoned. I see it didn't take you long to replace me."
"Can you blame me?" he asked her.
"Not truly," she said, "as I came here to release you from your promise to me. But still… I wish you'd looked for me, instead of believing them. Goodbye."
"Wait-" he called.
"No," she smiled sadly, "There's nothing left to say. I hope you're happy with her."
"Stay," her father said to her, grabbing her arm as she began to pack.
"I can't," she said sadly, "I'll miss you terribly, Father, but he needs me. Perhaps I can come back to visit again."
"I can't stop you," he said sadly, "but I will wait for you until I die. I don't understand why you feel you need to go back, but I give you my blessing.
She smiled at him and said, "I love you, Father."
He kissed her on the forehead, and left the room.
Than night, she dreamed of her beast again, asking her to marry him.
Day 27 & 28.
She'd been lost in the woods for two whole days, and she was beginning to despair of ever finding the castle again. The only thing that kept her going was the dreams. But even those were dwindling. Perhaps she would never return. If she didn't get to the castle tomorrow, her beast would die.
She'd found the castle, finally. But it was dark… dank and gloomy. Dying.
She wandered around through the twilight rooms, carrying a lamp, searching for her beast, more frightened by the noises she heard in the castle and the flickering shadows than she had been by the unnatural stillness when she first came.
She saw nothing else alive, despite the creaks and scurrying noises, and she began to despair that she was too late. What if her beast had died already, and she'd done all that for nothing? What if she'd lost both her chances for happiness, because she was too blinded by one to take the other?
She'd searched most of the castle without luck by the time she remembered her dreams. Always in the rose garden, he was, without fail.
She hurried to the garden as fast as she could, remembering the beast's words about hope, struggling not to lose hers, ignoring the shadows and noises, focused only on the beast and her search for him.
By the time she got to the garden, night had fallen in earnest, and she ran through the moonlit roses, searching for her beast.
She tripped over him, at last, a shadow that she'd assumed was no more solid than the others, and landed sprawled on the path, scraping her hands and face as she landed. Ignoring the pain, she scrambled over to the beast and wrapped her arms around him, listening for a heartbeat or a breath, praying she wasn't too late.
"Please, please don't be dead," she whispered to him, crying, "how can I marry you if you die?"
There was a tremendous flash of light, and the smell of roses filled the air.
When she could see again, she still knelt in the rose garden, but instead of having her arms wrapped around an enormous monstrosity, they were wrapped around a thin man, who looked as if, were he healthy, he would have been quite handsome.
She gasped and drew back, as the man groaned and rolled over.
"Beautiful?" he asked, and her head snapped up. She knew that voice.
"Beast?" she asked tentatively.
"Not anymore," he told her, smiling.
She hugged him fiercely, then, and he hugged her back, and they were both crying and laughing, holding on to each other as if they would fall off the planet if they let go.
"Did you mean it?" he asked her eventually. "About marrying me? That was the key to breaking the spell, you know."
"I meant it," she said, "and I'm sorry it took me so long. I tried to get back sooner, but I got lost, and before that my family wanted me to stay, and I know it was no excuse, but I did try, and… forgive me?"
"Of course," he smiled, "there's nothing to forgive."
He kissed her, then, and thus began the rest of their lives.