davidxdavid started a post a day for the month of February, and for one of my days I put up an entry offering ficlets based on fairytales. It's taken a while to get round to it, but now that I have, I can't seem to stop. And, like all the ficlets that came before this one, it... kind of ran away with me, so. This is for rajkumari905, who is AMAZING, motherfuck, and I have missed her sfm and she deserves something in celebration of the end of her freshman year of college! ♥ ♥ ♥ Also, this goes out to my darling, sexy wife, who has just finished her last day of high school (ILU, BABY, I AM SO PROUD) and also won a fucking award for English, which, hi, she is clearly a genius. <3333333333333
Song As Old As Rhyme
Most days, Cook enjoyed his work.
Hell, he'd even say he loved it, waking up and falling asleep each day to the musty smell of books. But today was a little different. Today was probably the worst day in the world to be a librarian in a little town who, oh, yeah, doubled up as book delivery boy because Johns had broken his ankle skiing the day before and wouldn't be in for at least two months.
Which was why Cook was out on foot, knee-deep in snow, trudging through the cold with about twenty books in the knapsack on his back. It'd taken him four hours to travel ten miles from the library, and he had five miles left to go.
Cook shivered, pulling his jacket a little tighter around himself. Fucking closed roads. And he owed Carly a favor for all the books she'd been sending him, so it wasn't even like her delivery could wait, because apparently people in her town only read in dead fucking Winter, and his delivery would probably be able to tide half the town over till Summer, Jesus, recreational reading was apparently lost on some people--
That was when the snowstorm started.
He was going to die, Cook decided, later.
He was going to die from fucking hypothermia, and his toes were probably going to crumble like ice blocks before anyone even found him. He'd already lost his backpack to the howling wind, and the snowstorm had gotten even worse. Cook had to struggle to keep his eyes open, leaking tears the whole time. The moisture froze on his face almost immediately, little pinpricks of pain. His teeth were chattering so hard they might as well have been tapping out the beat to a marching band. His thighs were burning, and his boots felt like they'd been cut from lead. He could barely lift his feet.
The next town could be hours away, and trying to head back would be impossible. Cook squinted into the distance--it didn't look like there was anything but dark and snow for miles around him. Jesus, he couldn't even tell which direction he was supposed to be headed in.
"Well, fuck me," Cook said. There was an edge of hysteria in the laugh that accompanied it. He weighed his options for a second - which made him laugh some more because, fuck, options, yeah, he had plenty of those - and then broke down a little bit - because he was going to die in the middle of a snowstorm and it wasn't like the wind was going to tell anyone. Then he wiped his face with the back of his hand, and pressed on again, put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward.
He lost track of time as he walked, and he was swaying dangerously on his feet, eyes practically glazed over when he saw it. A gate. A gate to a fucking castle. Cook let out a sound that was embarrassingly close to a sob. "Hey!" he called, waving his arms as he fought his way forward. The snow seemed thicker than ever. "Hey! Hello? Is somebody in there? Hello?"
He tripped twice trying to make it to the gates, and rattled at them when he made it there. "Hello?" he yelled. "Please! Open the door!" It took a second - and, fuck, Cook swore it was like the gates were hesitating - but then they swung open, and Cook stumbled inside.
All of a sudden, the wind stopped howling. The snow disappeared. Cook pushed forward with too much strength, and he tipped over, crashed hard into the ground. He didn't even care. His body was aching, the cold burning in his blood. "Uh, thanks," Cook mumbled woozily, to the ground, and then he closed his eyes and slipped under.
In Cook's dream, something - someone - picked him up, gently, and he shifted close, trying to get warm. He protested when he was put down on a bed, but then someone started humming, soft and soothing, and he settled again. He felt his boots being tugged off, laughed when he heard someone mutter, "oh my gosh!" and then there was a warm, furry... pillow? It felt like a pillow, pressed against his forehead, sweeping gently into his hair. The humming started again, and Cook sighed and stopped dreaming.
When Cook woke up, the snowstorm was over. The sun was high in the sky; it was probably close to noon. He sat up, slowly, and swiped a hand over his face, trying to get his bearings. He was still in the garden, just inside the gates he'd stumbled into the night before. He stretched, carefully, surprisingly refreshed for someone who'd spent a night out in the cold. His clothes were dry, thank god, but his boots looked... newer than they did when he left the library.
Oh, god. The library. Carly's books.
Cook groaned, and pushed to his feet. Almost of their own accord, they began to propel him towards the gates. He barely had time to admire the garden - full of green grass, miniature smiling garden gnomes, and multiple plots of flowers, as far as the eye could see, all in full bloom - before he was off the grounds, and the gates swung shut decidedly after him.
Cook blinked in confusion. Then he shook his head. "Time to head back," he muttered, to himself, "And not get paid for, oh, the rest of my life." He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets with a sigh--and pulled out a slew of neatly wrapped sandwiches. Cook stared at them for a moment, in near disbelief. He was already scarfing one down when he turned back to the castle. "Thank you!" he called, one hand raised in a grateful wave.
A dark red rose caught his eye, then. It was curling up, almost toward him, so close to the gates that Cook could probably reach out and pluck it. It had the softest looking petals Cook had ever seen. He leaned in, entranced, sandwich already forgotten as he stretched out a hand--
"Oh my gosh!" someone shouted, and Cook startled as he snatched his hand back. "Don't do that!"
A large, shaggy head appeared in the gateway, followed by - by a huge, skulking mass of fur, fangs bared and glinting deadly in the pale sunlight, claws fanning out like daggers from underneath its fur. Cook let out a yelp, and tripped in his haste to back away. He went sprawling into the snow.
"Um," the - the Beast said, voice a low rumble. "That's right! Run away, you, um, bad - bad human!"
Cook sat up, cautiously, and spat out a mouthful of snow. When he looked up, the Beast was still watching him, both wolf-like ears flicking back and forth, almost, Cook thought, nervously. The Beast stood a good six feet taller than Cook was, but it had both its massive arms tucked behind its back, politely, which took away from the whole badass vibe it was probably gunning for.
"Go on," the Beast said. "I - you should be, like, totally scared right now!"
Cook blinked, and got to his feet. "Scared, huh?" he heard himself say, which, fuck, yeah, he was, but this - this animal had given him sandwiches. Carried him inside and put him to bed. Washed his feet. Sung to him. He took an unsteady step forward. Up close, he could see the Beast's eyes, a warm, human hazel in his face. "You put sandwiches in my jacket, man."
The Beast flinched, a little. "I - all the better to, um, to make you fatter? To - to eat?"
Cook caught himself on the cusp of a smile. "Taking a leaf out of Red Riding Hood's book. Nice."
"Oh, I - rawr?" the Beast growled, but it fell pretty flat. "Go away, um. Please?"
"Right," Cook said, wryly. "Yeah, this is me, totally convinced." He took another step closer.
"Oh," the Beast moaned."No, no, wait, I - I'm -- I'm right out of your, um, your worst nightmares! I - I'm terrifying! Rawr!" The Beast raised its claws, kind of desperately, and Cook felt an irrational surge of laughter bubbling up in his chest. He moved closer still. He could swear the Beast was flailing. "I, um, I eat humans for breakfast!" the Beast wailed. "Two! Rawr! Babies! Mmm!"
Cook bent over, then, palms on his knees, and laughed so hard he began to wheeze.
"Oh my gosh," the Beast said, miserably. "You're totally not taking me seriously."
"No," Cook agreed. "No, I'm totally not." He inched even closer on some strange burst of curiosity. "Look, can we go inside and talk? I'm not buying the whole man-eating creature of the night thing, and you did just save my life. The least I can do is thank you for it."
"Wait, don't!" the Beast said, frantically, but Cook had already put his hand on the gate, and then the rose was right there, and ow, Jesus, thorns.
The Beast was pale underneath his fur as the gates reopened and Cook tumbled back into the garden.
"What the hell just happened?" Cook demanded.
"Oh my gosh," the Beast said, as he reached a hand down to Cook. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. I tried to warn you--"
"Warn me?" Cook asked, as he wobbled to his feet, which, wow, okay, dizzy. "What?"
"Those roses are magic," the Beast explained, unhappily. "And not, um, not the good kind. Also, um, you're maybe kind of stuck with me, now. In here."
Twenty minutes later, they were both inside the castle, Cook with a hot cup of coffee in his hands, listening to the Beast tell him the whole tale. "So after my dad died, my mom had to hold up the fort, or whatever, and these people, like, came and waged war on us, so my mom left me with Aunt Linda. I mean, she's not really my aunt - because, ew - but she took care of me and stuff, and after my mom died I guess she sort of adopted me? Except when I turned, like, eighteen, she tried to, um, like, seduce me, or whatever?" The Beast broke off, shuddering, and Cook found himself tempted to hit something. Preferably Aunt Linda. "I don't know, it was really weird. So I said no and she got really mad, so." The Beast shrugged, the movement strangely large on him. "So now I'm stuck like this, in the castle, and, but - it's, you know, it sucks, but I guess you get used to it or something."
"Jesus," Cook breathed.
"I'm sorry you're stuck here with me," the Beast said, apologetically. "I - people usually start running when they see me. I didn't think you'd -- dangit, I shouldn't have let you near the roses."
Cook looked at the Beast for a long moment. He had to stifle the crazy, crazy urge to reach out and pet him. Pet him. "Don't apologize," he said, quietly, and waited for the Beast to raise his head, eyes bright with surprise. "I'm going to get us out of here. Trust me."
Cook spent the rest of the day camped out in the library. ("Fuck," he'd said, when the Beast had first shown him to it. It was thirty times the size of his library. "Okay. So. This is going to take a little longer than I thought.") The Beast sat beside him, ears flicking all the while, as Cook browsed through book after book, hoping for a lead.
Somewhere between How to Love your Roses and Little Red Riding Hood, the Beast began to hum, a quiet melody Cook had never heard before. The Beast stopped when he glanced over. "Sorry," he said. "I'll be quiet."
"No," Cook said, quickly. "No, it's fine. Just - I've never heard that before."
"Oh," the Beast said. Cook would've sworn he was blushing. "Um, I - I guess that's because I wrote it?"
"Oh," Cook said, "It's really good," and caught himself smiling as he went back to his book.
After a moment, the Beast started humming again.
It became a sort of routine between them. Cook would fall asleep in the library every night, to the sound of the Beast humming in his ear, and when he woke up there'd be food spread on a picnic mat beside him, a steaming cup of coffee, and a new shelf of previously untouched books piled in a corner for his convenience. The ones he'd already looked at would be stacked neatly back where they belonged. The Beast would show up sometime in the afternoon, sheepishly poking his head around the door like he might be disturbing Cook. "Um," he would say, "Do you like cupcakes?"
They would break for lunch, the Beast asking Cook about any new discoveries he'd made. One day Cook asked, gesturing around the room, "If there was a chance you could, you know, with all these books, why didn't you just--"
"Well," the Beast said, and carefully picked up a cupcake. Somehow he managed to swipe an accidental claw through it and he watched as it disintegrated in his paw. "I'm, um, not so good with fragile objects?"
Cook winced. "I see your point."
Dinner would be much of the same, the Beast bringing the food in just as Cook thought he was about to give up on his fruitless search. For the rest of the night, Cook would put the books aside, and fall into a quiet conversation with the Beast, easy words that never had anything to do with curses or history or how they were going to get out. Then, after they'd fallen into companionable silence, the Beast would start humming again.
Some nights, Cook would even join in.
They sounded surprisingly good together.
It was the fifteenth day when Cook found the photo album, tucked between The Great Gatsby and Stephen King's It - "My dad liked reading a lot," the Beast had said, when Cook pointed out the eclectic range.
Cook was surprised to realize that he was beyond curious to see what lay beyond the cover. He put his hand on it. There was a howl from the front of the room, and Cook jumped, the album falling from his hands with a loud clatter. The Beast flew into the room, expression twisted, more fearsome than Cook had ever seen him, and grabbed the album. He stood with his back to Cook, breathing labored. Neither of them spoke for a long while.
"Beast," Cook said, eventually.
He was rewarded with a quiet little whine, less human than anything he'd heard from the Beast before. "Please don't touch this," the Beast rasped. And then he was off, loping out of the room and down the corridor.
Cook stood for another moment, frozen, and then he gave chase.
Cook had never realized, in all his time in the castle, just how big it was. Or how empty. For the first time, Cook noted the obvious lack of family portraits on the walls, the lack of furniture, the lack of any sign that someone might be living here. "Beast?" Cook called. His voice echoed lowly down the empty hallway. "Beast?"
There was no answer, but something prompted Cook to turn left when he was faced with yet another hallway. The Beast was at the far corner, sitting in front of a piano. It was the only thing adorning the room. The Beast still had one paw curled, gingerly, around the photo album.
Cook approached him, cautiously, and sat down beside him when the Beast made no move to acknowledge him, or to leave. "Hey," he said.
"I used to be really good," the Beast said, instead, like they were picking up on an old conversation. He looked down at the piano, and then at his claws, and away, and Cook felt a strange pang of helplessness. "My parents sent me for, um, for classes and everything."
"Bet you still are," Cook said, gently, nudging the Beast with an elbow.
The Beast looked away, ears flicking, wildly, and this time, Cook knew the Beast was blushing.
"Sorry about the album," Cook added. "I didn't know--"
The Beast nodded, fur brushing gently against Cook's arm where their elbows were touching. "I'll show it to you someday," he said, quietly. "Just - maybe not today?"
"Sure," Cook agreed, ignoring the warmth in his chest that was threatening to spread. He looked down at the piano. "So will you sing if I play?"
The Beast shot him a sideways glance. "You can play?" he said, badly concealed excitement in his voice.
"Um, duh," Cook snorted, and broke out his best piece: Mary had a Little Lamb.
The Beast burst out laughing, but ended up singing along anyway, and Cook caught himself grinning.
He tried not to think about the fact that he was quickly - too quickly - getting used to this.
Cook declined the Beast's offer to show him the rest of the castle after that, more determined than ever to find a way to get them the hell out of the place, to get the Beast somewhere he wouldn't be alone. He stayed up much later that night than he usually did, refusing dinner and their usual light conversation after to make up for all the time he'd lost that afternoon.
The Beast sat with him the whole time, quietly. Once in a while, Cook heard him murmuring, "its fleece as white as snow," under his breath, and he'd blink, angrily, till his sleepiness faded a little, and reach for another book.
He didn't even realize he'd fallen asleep till he woke up again, his head cradled in the Beast's lap, one of the Beast's paws gentle in his hair, the Beast's voice low and soothing in his ear. "Oh," the Beast murmured, "Sorry, did I, um, did I wake you up?"
Cook yawned, and blinked up at him, sleepily. "So it was you that first night, huh?"
"Oh," the Beast blurted, and moved away so abruptly that Cook shivered. "I didn't think you'd - oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. I just - um, it -- it's been so long since--" the Beast broke off again. His face was burning.
Cook propped himself up on his elbows, suddenly awake. "Since?" he prompted, gently.
The Beast was quiet for a long moment. "Since, um, since I've seen anyone. Especially, you know, because they're always all, whatever," he waved his arms a little, his fur practically glowing red in the firelight, "Screaming and stuff, usually."
Cook was silent for a moment, as he studied the floor. Finally, he raised his head again, meeting the Beast's eyes. Hope flared in them, bright, and Cook reached out a hand. "Get back here," he commanded. "It's freezing."
The Beast obeyed - and that, the idea of it, him, commanding this creature, Jesus, made the Beast seem oddly vulnerable, especially when he curled up obligingly around Cook, one arm draped over Cook's waist. Cook leaned back into him, the warmth of the Beast's fur seeping into his own skin, and fell back asleep to the rhythm of the Beast's heart, beating steadily against his back.
It was several days later before Cook ventured out of the library again, out of frustration, he told himself, because they were still without any leads, and not because the Beast hadn't showed, and it was already an hour past their usual lunchtime.
He walked aimlessly down a dozen hallways, not quite worried - the castle always seemed to know where he needed to go - until he found himself back at the piano. Cook grinned, deciding he had enough time to make a detour. He sat at the piano bench, and tapped a couple of keys, laughing to himself at the memory of the Beast making up words to the verses, we all love Mary's lamb, lalala.
The strains of music echoed in the empty room, and when Cook looked up again, he realized -- the photo album was there. It was open this time, and Cook found himself reaching for it before he could think to stop.
To David, our little boy was inscribed on the first page. Cook turned that over. A picture of a little boy greeted him. He was no more than five, raised over his father's head, giggling and squirming, both of them looking straight on at the camera. Cook flipped a page, and there was the same little boy, older now, clinging to his mother's waist, beaming up at her adoringly. Again, on the next page, with both parents this time, clearly older still, and Cook went through the whole album, pages of it, barely able to wrap his mind around what he was seeing.
On the last page, the boy was alone, all grown up now, almost a man. He stood in what Cook recognized as the castle gardens, looking tired, and, although his mouth was curled in a smile, desperately sad. His eyes were dim with it. Cook touched two fingers to the photograph, wonderingly. If Cook had any doubt about it before - about who the boy was - they were gone now.
The photograph fell away from the album when his fingers did, and Cook bent, hurriedly, to pick it up. There was script at the back of it, four lines of ancient, badly-rhymed cheese.
Where true love shalt not pass thy way
Alone eternally thy heart shalt beat
For a half it can never meet.
"Oh, my god," Cook breathed. "Oh my god." The album clattered to the ground as he shot out of his seat, calling, frenziedly, "Beast!"
He found the Beast outside, tending to the roses. The roses, Jesus Christ, when they were enchanted and - and probably what was keeping him in here--
Cook slowed to a stroll as he walked up the garden path. "Beast," he said, and the Beast turned around, startled. There was a streak of dirt over his eye, and Cook swallowed a laugh. God, he was giddy. "You were late."
"Oh my gosh!" the Beast said, sheepishly, and looked at his bare wrist, and then around the castle, as if for some sense of time. "Sorry! I, um. I lost track of time. The flowers were all, whatever, feed us! So--"
Cook grinned at that, felt his face lighting up as if from the warmth he could feel bubbling in his stomach, and right then, he knew. He knew. "I think I've figured out a way to get us out of here."
The Beast's jaw dropped, fangs protruding unattractively. "What?"
"I found a way to--ahh!" Cook was on the ground before he knew it, the Beast's arms strong and warm around him.
"Oh my gosh," the Beast was saying, over and over, into his shoulder. "Oh my gosh, Cook! You - you found a way to -- oh my gosh!"
"I did," Cook said, as the Beast rolled them both over so Cook was on top. "I saw the album." The Beast's head jerked up, then, eyes wide, and he opened his mouth, maybe to protest, Cook wasn't sure. He covered it with a palm. "You can be pissed the fuck off later, okay, right now I just - I need to--"
And he leaned down, smoothing fur out of the Beast's eyes. He had one hand over the Beast's chest, and he could feel it thudding, furiously, like it was saying please, please, oh my gosh, please, and Cook couldn't see the animal, couldn't see the creature, couldn't see anything but those hazel eyes and the way they fluttered shut as he leaned closer still.
He kissed the Beast squarely on his snout.
And then there was nothing but a bright, blinding light.
Cook shut his eyes.
When he opened them again, everything was a dizzying, hazy blur. He was lying, curled up, on his side, alone, and-- Cook pushed himself upright. "Beast?"
"Oh my gosh," he heard someone say. Except it wasn't - that voice wasn't --
He whipped around. It wasn't the Beast. Or, his brain corrected, it was, it was, but it wasn't, it was the boy from the photo album. He was looking at his hands - his hands - in utter disbelief.
Cook's breath caught in his throat. He opened his mouth, shut it, had to try again. "David?" he croaked, finally.
The boy looked up, eyes shining and oh, god, oh god, that was the Beast, fuck -- Cook stumbled to his feet.
David flew at him, torn between laughing and crying as he flung his arms around Cook's neck. He was half a head shorter than Cook was, now, so different from - from before, and the change threw Cook for a minute. But then David said, into Cook's neck, "Cook, oh my gosh, you did it! Thank you!" and his voice caught a little, at the end, and Cook forgot about then and now, about the differences. He felt like he could do anything.
"How did you--" David added, his voice small.
"Witches never believe that true love will save the day," Cook pointed out.
He felt David stiffen in his arms, and then relax all at once. When David said, "oh," it sounded like he was trying not to cry.
Cook's throat grew tight. "Let's get out of here," he said, roughly, his arms still wrapped firmly around David's shoulders.
"Okay," David agreed, muffled in his shirt. "But, um, could we go inside for a while, maybe? I'm, um, I'm kind of not wearing any clothes."
"Oh," Cook said, his mind glazing over for a second. "Right."
They went back in, then, but it was a good day or so later before they came back out again.
And then - after they'd left the castle for good with 250 books for Carly, and made it back to Cook's library, with a couple of stops on the way for, uh, leisure, and they'd stopped by to check on Johns, and Cook had introduced David to his family - they lived happily ever after.