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“I’m sorry.”

Her voice was soft, “I am. It’s stupid, I should have realized that you can’t go out…the way you are.” Not for the first time in her life she reflected that life was not fair, that humans were cruel creatures and that while the beast in front of her had been crueler then most, he had suffered too.

“It’s…not entirely your fault. I don’t like leaving Constance alone with her mother. I’d take her away if I could.” He swallowed, “There’s a bed though, and you should be warm. I’d just ask that we wait until night to travel again. If your highness can stand that.”

“All these nocturnal adventures with a strange man.” Her voice bit, “what would my mother think.”

She paused, laying back on the decaying mattress, “…Was this your bed?”
“…It belonged to a vagrant. Constance helped me find it when I first…came to the city”

“Why don’t you sleep here?” she patted the bed, "I mean I figured since I'm your captive, little better then a slave..."

He looked pained and she saw why - with the forward limbs and the way his back legs were spread in order for him to do so he would have to curl up like an animal - and with his size he'd probably break it, “You can’t?”

He shook his head, beamed rudely at her, and knocked on the floor, “It’s a wood floor.” He nodded, “S’better then dirt and ground. “ He shrugged, “and hey, look. I carry a blanket with me everywhere I go. So don’t worry about me.”

“Oh of course not.” She rolled her eyes, “You’ll probably be more comfortable then I am.” The blankets were thin, and when she wrapped them around her shoulders she realized with a sickening sensation that she may have been right, “…Damn it…”

Silence from the floor and then, “…You could…you could come down here.”

“Sleep with you?”

“Well if it’s such a stupid idea…”

She hesitated before sitting up, “Move.” Working quickly she spread the blanket out before he moved to lay down on it, “Hey now, hold on..."

“Relax Miss Mary suspicious Sunshine. I will be a perfect gentleman. Come here.” He was twice her size, body thick and covered in fur with pointed ears and those…astonishingly human eyes, “Or don’t. More space for me.”

It would be like sleeping next to a bear. She imagined. Or next to the tiger in the zoo that always looked like it wanted to kill himself, “…Keep your paws to yourself.”

He laughed softly at that and she crawled in beside him and was instantly wrapped in a warm cocoon. He smelled like sweat and that shirt, but beneath that there was dirt and moss and the ever present rain and snow that made up their daily landscape. Wind blew through the decaying housing and she clung to him, “…It is cold.”

“That’s life.” The beast yawned, “Cold.”

She was trying not to gag on his smell, thinking only about the warmth, “…Thank you.”

He shifted, surprised at that as he looked her in the face – hot breath across her nose and eyes and cheeks, “…For what?”’

“…I’d freeze in those blankets.”

“Next time you won’t follow me when I leave.” he pointed out ,"especially without a coat." she rolled her eyes and wondered what he'd say if she told him that if he'd given her a coat none of this would happen.

She swallowed a thousand angry responses, “…Can’t I thank you without being reproached? This is the warmest I’ve been in a long time.”

And she felt him tense, as if he was swallowing his own annoyed answers before a massive furry arm held her – surprisingly gently, and surprisingly close.

“You’re welcome.”

Even with the smell, the heat was taking affect and the giant creature beside her, beginning to doze was making the most curious vibration in his chest. She would have said – if she were any less of a woman or believed in such things – that he was purring.

“…If someone finds us…”

“No one comes here.”

“But if they do.”

That gentle and insistent feeling of being held again, “No one is going to hurt you while you’re with me.” It didn’t sound arrogant and full of pride, it sounded like a promise, a statement of someone who cared and someone who was - frankly, half asleep.

“Don’t kill anyone.”

He laughed, “Where’s the fun in that…”

“Please.” She tried to twist out of his grip to look at him, “Beast please, please, don’t if anything should happen…”

“…Go to sleep.”

“Please promise me. No more murders.”

“Sleep now.”

“Only if you promise.”

“Then you’ll sleep?” he yawned.

To share assurances, to show she trusted his word, she nestled into his embrace and lay there , curled against the bear, her bear, "I promise."

She awoke to a bright winter sun, firmly wrapped in the creature's arms. Laying there she felt him shiver and realized point blank that he was probably just as cold as she had been - and taking that moment to protect her.

Well aren't you full of surprises. Mr. Boss man. Lying back, she wondered when that foul smell of half unwashed pet and half human sweat had vanished and she started to feel something almost like peace.




It stood there like Christmas, like a holiday, just waiting for the two of them, "Oh beast!"

"I thought...that since maybe y'know, you were missing singing...I couldn' let you get out in a crowd of course. You've seen too much, but you're fine with that right? so I...I figured maybe it was time to introduce you to Betsy.

Betsy, a piano. Gleaming white and black keys, meticulously kept up, "...This is...how?..."

"...I play."

Could a creature look sheepish? Turning to face him she realized He did and He was. Big hands hanging uselessly at his side. She hit a key and then another, "It's tuned."

"Always this tone of surprise." He frowned, face twisted into something grotesque, "I play, Miss suspicious sunshine, if that matters to you."

"You?"

"Big hands means more space to stretch for keys lady." He held up his clawed paws, "Sing something."

The bench creaked under his weight, but with one hand he swung her up to side on top and smiled, "...Anything."

"...Talk about stage fright." she giggled, "I-well..."

She sang one of her own songs and was surprised to hear a melody tentatively picked out across the keys. Her confidence grew and so did his playing, the creature's cigar obscuring her features and beast, bopping along with the music.

She finished and he tapped the cigar out on the wood, "You're good. You're really good."

"You want to talk about good, I didn't think you could play with a paw." She slid off the piano and took his paw in her hands, running her hands up and down his fingers, "You're so delicate, tickling those ivories.."

His paw closed around her hands, "...It's something that mattered to me. Once I got betsy back, I had to try. It was always...the only time I felt human. When i was playing, the only time I felt like myself."

"My nurse always said...that when a man or a woman have music in their soul...it's blessed by God."

He hissed at that and tried to withdraw, "It has nothing to do with God. It's mine, it's all me."

She had upset him somehow. Turning away, he started to leave and she could think of no way to recapture that, "...It means someone loves you."

"Someone far away." His voice was sharp and he'd never sounded more animal, more primal then he did to her then, "...When I wish they were closer to home. Can you think of anything good that would do me? No? Didn't think so."

He nearly ripped the door off it's hinges, to the surprise of Legs and Louis in the sitting room. She trembled and shut out that tiny voice in her mind that said, Maybe someone closer to home is starting to.

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And that is why that girl is called a tease.

April 2014

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