The beast


He’s not sure how he can even be alive.

By all accounts, the fall alone should have killed him, and if not then he certainly shouldn’t have made it to the shore. Not that it’s much of a shore – black rocks, hard and unforgiving, and if he’d landed on those he certainly wouldn’t be alive now.

But he is.

He wakes briefly on the shore and he thinks he sees stars and fireworks and magic, but no, that can’t be, because magic doesn’t exist. He feels disconnected, the world consisting of white pain. Endless, just like the skies above. Darkness nabs at him and he gives in, realizing that he’s about to die.

He wakes again and though there is still pain, it’s not white hot anymore, but a dull ache that starts in his head and ends in his toes, throbbing with every heartbeat. He hurts everywhere and he wants to scream, except he doesn’t have the energy.

He realizes he’s warm. Snug beneath blankets, in fact – and that makes him realize that he’s in a bed. He manages to open his eyes and sees a roof of wood and grass.

“You’re awake.”

Someone states the obvious; it’s a melodic and kind voice. It reminds him of Belle.

He expects to feel hatred welling up inside, because Belle didn’t chose him, she chose a beast instead of his beauty. Yet he doesn’t; he doesn’t have the energy to feel hatred or even anger. His head aches and his body feels like it’s been cut open and stitched back together.

He has no idea how correct that description is, at least not yet.

There is a hand, gentle on his forehead. “You should just keep resting. It’ll take a long time before you’re healed again.”

He wants to ask what kind of injuries he has, but his mouth feels like it’s been rinsed with sawdust. He wants to know where he is, who she is – and why is he not dead? But then his eyes drift shut and the world becomes dark and he falls asleep once more.

Consciousness comes and goes. He has no idea how much time passes – he just notes, very briefly, the passage of time because sometimes it’s dark in the room, other times daylight streams through windows he can only just make out in the corners of his vision. He doesn’t have the energy to move and even if he did he’s not sure he’d want to. Simply breathing hurts these days; he doesn’t want to know how painful it would be to move.

He dreams of beasts with sharp teeth, dreams of falling into a pit of darkness. He dreams of ice cold rain and gargoyles that taunt him. His throat hurts sometimes when he wakes and he wonders if he screams in his sleep.

If he does, his hostess is kind enough to not say anything.

Eventually, she deems him well enough to sit up and in time he manages to eat on his own rather than have her feed him. He hasn’t seen himself in the mirror yet, but the scarring across his hands and the numbness in his fingers tell him that he won’t be seeing the proud man he once was when he does get a look at himself.

She doesn’t appear fazed by his appearance, though, nor is she put off by his behavior. Every bone in his body hurts and he swears at length at her when she tries to get him out of bed. He hates himself, hates weakness, hates being trapped in a body that doesn’t work. He wants to die, because he’s nothing now.

She merely helps him with whatever he needs. Her eyes smile gently at him, her brow knitted with worry, and when he screams and growls at her she leaves him alone. Sometimes he thinks she’ll leave him for good to rot in his own misery, but she always comes back a few hours later with a meal and fresh bandages for the wounds that are slow to heal.

He thinks of Belle, wonders where she is now and what she does. The beast must have died – not even a creature like that would survive a knife to the side, would it?

But strangely, his thoughts don’t linger on them. The more time that passes, the more he doesn’t care. He realizes that that life is over. He’s no longer Gaston, no longer the man every woman wants and every man wants to be.

He’s a cripple, damaged and useless.

He can’t walk properly, they both soon find out.

“I did the best I could,” she says, and for the first time he hears tears in her voice.

While one leg has healed as it should, the other hurts like he’s walking on knives with every step he takes.

The next day he finds a knife and a long piece of wood on the chair beside his bed. She doesn’t say anything, and though he thinks at first about sticking the knife into himself to end his misery, he doesn’t do it. He realizes with a start that he no longer wants to die. Instead, he starts carving out a cane. He works on it every day until his fingers go numb – it doesn’t take long, unfortunately – and for the first time in months he feels useful.

She brings him more wood and an assortment of knives and he works on figurines and canes and spoons and forks. They disappear, one after another, and he doesn’t ask until the curiosity finally wins out.

“What do you do with them?”

He’s beneath blankets in bed because that way he doesn’t have to see his deformed legs, and she sits at the bottom of the bed, dinner plate on her lap.

She looks at him. “I sell them, of course.”

“Sell them?” he echoes stupidly.

“Yes,” she says. “When I’m at the market with my herbs. Most pieces are gone within the hour.”

He’s lived there for months, in her little cottage in the woods, but she’s never said anything about what she does when she’s not taking care of him. He feels bad and it’s a new feeling, because she’s been there every day for him, but he hardly knows anything about her.

He decides to change that. They start having conversations: he asks about her day – and he actually cares about the answer.

She’s nothing like the girls that always hung after him before. Her hair is a mousy brown color and she’s not nearly as pretty as some of the women he has taken to bed – but she’s beautiful all the way through. Her laugh is like a cascade of light on a rainy day and she’s animated, each story she tells accompanied by hands and fingers and gestures. He wonders if she’s hypnotizing him because sometimes he can just watch her move.

When he finally gathers up the courage to look at himself in a mirror, she’s there beside him. She holds his hand even though he pretends he doesn’t need it and she squeezes it as he does the sharp intake of breath a moment after the image of himself hits him. There are scars crisscrossing his face, a mockery of the man he was before. His fingers shake as he touches the side of his own face. Upon seeing the man in the mirror do the same, he finally breaks. He’s barely aware of her helping him back to bed, the pain in each step unbearable.

She settles next to him in bed, never releasing him. He shakes against her, refusing to admit that he’s crying, because he doesn’t cry. He hasn’t cried since he was a young child.

But time passes yet again and slowly he learns to accept his body and his life. She teaches him to enjoy the sound of birds singing and she teaches him to read properly – and then she brings him books every week from the library in town. There are no pictures in the books, but he finds that he doesn’t mind now.

He watches her as she goes about the chores of every day. He catalogues each of her smiles and learns every nuance of her voice. He falls so deeply for her and he doesn’t even realize, because she is the only one he ever talks to and the first person he’s ever truly listened to.

When he kisses her the first time, she melts against him as though made to fit him. She tells him that he’s beautiful and though he doubts it, she repeats it often enough that he might one day start believing it.

His life is different now. Gaston is dead, gone in the dark murky waters around the beast’s castle, together with the black heart and endless hatred of all things different from himself.

Because to see true beauty, he had to become the beast.

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