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Fairytale Princess

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"Not Sleeping Beauty, Daddy," Mallory groaned from under the sheets as he reached for the book on her shelf.

"I thought you liked fairy tales, honey," he said, turning to her with a smile.

"I do, but..." she started, then cut herself off. She liked the stories, but didn't want to hurt her dad's feelings. She liked the action in the stories and the adventure and even the romance, but she just couldn't stand one part. "I just don't understand why the stupid princesses always need rescuing."

Her dad laughed and settled on her bed. Her dad had the best laugh.

"Okay, then, why don't we start a new story."

Mallory was skeptical, but settled in.

"Once there was a beautiful, smart princess named Mallory..."

*

Mallory at 30 will be tied to a chair in a darkened room. They will have already been in once to slap her around, scream their questions in her face, and leave again when she just looked them in the eye, cold and disinterested. They'll leave just enough light in the room and place her in just the right space so she can see her own image in the old, cracked mirror leaned against the wall, so she can stare at her own battered features: her swollen left eye and split lip, the cut under her right eye from the ring on the second thug's hand. It'll be to demoralize her, to make her see how strong they are and helpless she is.

Mallory will just be pissed off.

They'll have tied her securely to the chair. The chair will not be bolted down.

"Mirror, mirror on the wall..." she'll mutter to herself, and move forward toward the mirror. It won't be hard to knock it down.

*

"The princess was greatly loved throughout the land because she was kind and beautiful and tried to help people whenever she could," her dad said.

*

She'll be 18 when she goes to college, the next four years of her life mapped out, with the rest of her life clearly defined after that: get her Bachelor's, apply for commissioning, start towards becoming an officer in the US Marines.

She'll be 19 when four planes are highjacked and three are flown into buildings and that plan gets shot to hell.

Mallory will know her Dad was in demand all day, but she'll also know he always answers her call.

He'll barely say hello when she calls him, and starts with, "They wouldn't fucking listen! I told them, over and over, but they never goddamned listen..." and goes from there.

She'll let him rant, because there's nothing else you can do, and she'll ignore him choking on angry tears and her choking on hers. Then she'll tell him her plans.

"Well," her dad will say she's done, "most of the officers I've ever known were assholes, anyway. The gunnies run the Corps."

She'll drop all her classes and hit the recruitment center the next day.

*

"There was one person, though, who didn't love her," her father intoned with a voice of foreboding.

"The wicked stepmother?" she guessed. "Because Mallory didn't like to wear those stupid dresses or go to ballet class?"

"Hm." Her father looked thoughtful. "No, her stepmother liked her just fine. Her ballet teacher, though..."

*

Mallory will be 12 when she comes home from school to find her mother packing her bags and tearfully explaining she's leaving.

Mallory will not understand. Her father will be in D.C. trying and failing to get someone to listen to him about the importance of getting more Arabic-speaking intelligence operatives.

"This isn't easy for me, Mally," her mother will say. "But I have to go, it's best for everyone."

Mallory will not understand, but will cry because she's confused, and watch her mother finish packing her bag and leave in the cab outside. She'll tell her Aunt Ruby will be over in an hour to look after her, and that she'll call when she's settled.

Her mother won't ask her to come with her. Mallory wouldn't have gone, anyway.

Later, her father will call, sounding tired and resigned, and ask if she's okay.

"Am I okay? Seriously, Dad?!" she'll ask, completely baffled.

He'll say some things, tells her it's not her mother's fault; it's both of them. He'll talk and try to explain until Aunt Ruby rings the door, looking angrier and more resigned than Mallory will have ever seen her to that point.

Her dad will never say anything negative about her mother. He'll ask her if she wants to live with her mother when he gets home from D.C., and she'll look at him like he's crazy, and he'll deflate in apparent relief.

Years later, he'll say, "She loved being an officer's wife. She was good at it. She hated being an analyst's wife. I don't think she particularly liked me all that much, either."

Her mother will call her every month and send her cards and checks. Mallory will go to visit her twice a year in her mother's fancy new house, have meals with her mother's fancy new husband.

Mallory will still prefer her plain old dad.

*

"The wicked ballet teacher was jealous of how well Mallory could spin kick, even though all the other girls just pirouetted, so she hired one of the palace guards to kill her," her father continued, slamming his fist into his other hand.

"Harsh," Mallory said, snuggling into her pillow with enjoyment.

*

Mallory will learn pretty quickly, right out of Boot, in fact, that you didn't get to choose your deployments. It was one of the first things she learned to dislike about the Corps.

It will not be a surprise that Washington has no fucking clue what they were doing in that part of the world: she'll have listened to her Dad bitch about it for most of her life. But there will be a mass-murdering terrorist in a cave in Afghanistan, and there she will be shipped off to Baghdad to do inventory.

Hoo-fucking-rah.

*

"Princess Mallory's maid, though, overheard the guard talking with the evil ballet teacher, and ran to warn the princess, who was out in the courtyard beating the boys at basketball."

"Stupid boys," Mallory mumbled, wanting to stay awake for the story, but finding herself getting tired.

Her dad ignored her. "The princess started to run, but the guard was already there, cornering her," he says. "Her stepmother, who had stopped by a window high up, saw the man towering over her, and threw a dagger out the window, so she could defend herself," her dad said, making a pitching gesture.

Mallory sat up a little again, the excitement of the story. "And then Princess Mallory found it, right?"

Her father looked impressed. "Exactly right: Princess Mallory found it."

*

Mallory will be 21, a year past Parris Island, a year into her first deployment, when she'll meet Stinson.

Stinson will give her so much shit.

She'll give as good as she gets, not even looking up most of the time when he calls her a brass bitch. "Dickheads don't get an opinion," she'll say from where she will be doing her push-ups, and the rest of the unit will hoot.

Then one day Gregg, who'll she have turned down for the twentieth time to join him behind the motorpool, will start telling everyone loudly and with many pointed looks, how she was a dyke. Mallory will roll her eyes and go back to her reading. It won't be the first or last time she'll hear that when she turned a guy down.

Next thing anyone will know, Gregg will be on the floor, Stinson standing over him. Stinson will look almost sheepish when he shrugs and looks over at her. "My sister's a dyke," he'll say.

Someone will laugh, and everyone else will be quiet as Mallory stands up and walks over to Stinson.

She will kick him behind the knee then punch him in the face. Not that hard, though.

"I didn't ask for your help," she'll say calmly as he touches at his bleeding nose, but stays on the floor. She sure as shit won't need the other guys thinking she needed a protector.

Everyone will tense up more, if possible. Then Stinson will laugh. "My sister kicked my ass, too," he'll say through his bloody smile.

Mallory will laugh with the rest when she puts out her hand to help him up.

*

"Princess Mallory ran off into the woods, not sure who would be after her," her father continued without missing a beat.

"Hey, what happened with the guard?" Mallory asked indignantly.

"That's at least a PG-13 scene, Champ," her father told her, pushing her back down. "And this is a strictly PG story."

Mallory grumbled, but settled down, her eyes growing heavy.

"The princess lived in the woods alone for months, living off berries and nuts--"

"--and mushrooms?" Mallory offered.

"And absolutely mushrooms," her father agreed, "because she learned how to identify the good ones and the bad ones in Scouts."

Mallory was skeptical. "They have Girl Scouts in a fairy tale, Dad? Really?"

Her dad smiled and shrugged. "Why wouldn't they?" he asked.

Mallory still felt like that wasn't a good answer, but let it go.

"Then, one day, a handsome prince was walking through the forest..."

Mallory scowled at this. "He's not going to rescue her, is he?"

"Of course not!" her dad said, sounding shocked.

*

Mallory will be 24 when she meets Kenneth. He'll offer her a job, knowing more about her than he should, and he'll be handsome and charming, and she'll say yes, because the work sounds like it will be interesting.

He'll flirt with her for years. She'll always hold back because she never completely trusts Kenneth. Not that she needs to trust all her bed partners, but it complicates things when he's her boss, too.

"Come on," he'll say when she's 26. "You know you want me as much I want you. We'll be fantastic together."

She'll suspect they could be. She'll also suspect they could be a complete disaster.

She'll say yes.

*

"The handsome prince said he was from a far-off land, and came to trade with the fine, wonderful, and noble king."

Mallory snorts, but doesn't have the energy to say anything.

Her father was excellent at ignoring her. "He told Mallory this, even though she had told him she was just a milkmaid from a nearby town, and he had no idea she was really the amazing princess everyone talked about. Then he offered her the most beautiful apple she had ever seen."

"Don't take it, Princess," Mallory mumbled, half-asleep.

*

She'll still be 26 when she has this conversation with Kenneth in bed one night:

"It must have been very lonely growing up without your mom," Kenneth will say, seemingly out of nowhere.

"I missed her, but I had my dad," she will tell him.

"But, really," Kenneth will say again, pushing, obviously towards something, though she'll have no idea what. "It must have sucked, you know, not having your mother there."

She will sigh. "It sucked. But I had my dad," she will repeat, and turned out the light.

He will look oddly disappointed in her answer. That will seem to be one of only two settings he will have with her: smug and deeply disappointed.

At least the sex will be good.

Well, it will be okay anyway.

*

"That's right, because princesses should never take apples from princes until they're at least 30," her father said sagely.

Mallory didn't know for sure what he was talking about, but she was pretty sure he was being ridiculous. Unfortunately, she didn't have the energy to roll her eyes.

"Which is when the prince jumped at her."

*

The day after her 27th birthday, she will break up with Kenneth. It will not be dramatic, not as far as she will be concerned, but he'll smile and nod, as if there were no hard feelings. Working together and sleeping together obviously just doesn't work all that well, she'll tell him. He'll agree with good humor. It was never really a serious relationship, anyway, she'll say, and not enough to ruin their professional relationship. Absolutely, he'll say.

Deep down she'll acknowledge that after a year, she would still not trust him.

Six months later, after some strange assignments that will feel like punishments, milk runs that are obviously beneath her pay grade, she'll hand in her resignation.

Kenneth will take it with much less good will, but he'll seem to accept it.

There was obviously a reason she never entirely trusted him.

*

"They fought over the knife, Princess Mallory twisting away, just like the King had taught her, until she finally beat him and tied him to a tree."

"Yay," Mallory said, still half-asleep.

"Of course, the prince was a distant cousin of the evil ballet teacher, and had sent him to finish off the princess. Which is why you should never trust princes," her father insisted.

"They're not all evil, are they?" she mumbled.

Her father smiled down at her and stroked her hair. "Well, maybe not all of them."

*

When she's 27, Mallory will go to Spain.

Aaron will be an asshole, but a likeable asshole, really. Once you got him to talk about something he cared about.

He will remind her of Stinson. He'll be better in bed, though.

"Do you ever fucking sleep?" Aaron will ask her from the doorway that second morning of the job.

She will be doing pushups and not even pause. "When I need to," she will say. She'll know he's just being a dick, anyway; he'll have kicked her mattress to get her up to relieve him the night before.

"I think you just plug yourself into the wall along with your vibe," he'll say, yawn cracking his jaw while he scratches his stomach.

She'll finish up her last pushup, refusing to be winded. "Gotta treat your equipment right," she'll say, and brush past him towards the shower.

Days later, after the extraction seems to finish up well and everyone else goes home, they'll have sex for the first of two times.

Mallory will smile into Aaron's chest afterwards.

"You want to call for a pizza or something?" he'll mumble, eyes already closed. She'll snort a laugh and reach for the phone.

*

Her father was getting up to turn off the lights, which Mallory would have been okay with, but Dad hadn't finished the story.

"Wha' happen'?" she asked.

"Well," her dad said quietly as he leaned over to kiss her goodnight, "that's for another night. We'll have plenty of time."

"No fair," she said, as she fell asleep, though she was awake enough to hear him laugh at her.

*

When she is 10 years old, four years in the future, she'll come home from school with a fat lip and stubborn tears running down her cheek. Her mother will be horrified, and instantly want to call the school. Her father will sit Mallory down while her mother cleans her scrapes up and will get the story: a couple of bigger kids (she will refuse to say who: she will never be a snitch) will think she's an easy target because she will be smaller, and they will have stolen her JEM lunchbox. She won't be upset about the lunchbox—her mother bought it for her, but she thought JEM was stupid—but she will hate that she couldn't stop them.

Her father will listen seriously and tell her solemnly, "Honey, there's always going to be someone who thinks they're bigger and tougher than you. They'll try to knock you down, and you won't be able to stop them. The point is to get back up again when they do."

Two days later, after her mother goes shopping with her friends, her father will hand her a pair of eight-ounce boxing gloves, her first. "And when you get back up," he will say as he walks her into one of the gyms on base, "you might as well do some knocking down of your own."