Beauty grew up in a white walled box. Okay, it was a Nob Hill apartment with a 420 degree view of the City. The degree thing was possible because of a high price refraction spell his Mom got at Sharper Image. But the walls were white. The yard was sidewalk. It was a box. The only plant was this dead cactus thing in the breakfast nook. His older brothers, Adilah and Idi, broke it playing "Destroy the Troll Tower" with their Dodge ball when he was eight.
At this point, it's probably important to mention that his name wasn't actually Beauty. Well, yes, okay, "technically" it was Beauty. His name was Uzuri, which was Swahili for Beauty, because it was a whole heritage-pride thing with Mom. But when a kid has two older brothers, and it's like their life goal to torment the ever living shit out of him, and, by-the-way, he liked playing with dolls and trying on his mom's makeup, well, that kid doesn't get called Uzuri. Somewhere along the way, the name Beauty stuck and practically everyone forgot that was his name. Well, not his Mom, but for the sake of not confusing you, let's pretend that she called him Beauty too.
Anywho, at the point that this story starts up, it was just Beauty, Idi, and Mom (yes, she had a real name, but to Beauty she was just Mom), who was some kind of big shot at a tall building down in the financial district. Her company did some sort of thing that Beauty could never quite figure out, but it involved moving money around. Dad (he had a name too, but he was just a name to Beauty), had died in a tragic Cursed Maraschino cherry incident when Beauty was just a baby. Mom didn't like to talk about it. His oldest brother, Adilah, wasn't dead, but he worked with Healers Without Borders and wasn't around much anymore. Adilah was determined to save the world. Idi wanted to run it. Beauty didn't have a purpose.
But all that was kind of beside the point. The point was when this story started; Beauty was in high school generally going for invisible. He whispered it every day when he went in those door into that hard white acrid place and everyone ignored him, so it was true. It's when the teachers stopped calling on him that he realized what was going on. He tried it for real going down to the leather district while Mom was out being corporate. Whispered to his ID that it was twenty-one and the bouncer let him. He didn't tell anyone what he could do. He didn't want end up in a school for magic losers. He just wanted to lose himself. Be himself. And it was this weird double life, because Mom and Idi didn't know, and he'd go to school and struggle through hard cold rooms that smelled like detergent with hard cold teacher's voices. Then go out and let pounding beats define him. Define his feet and hands and lips. Bodies. Sweat sliding. Hands and fingers and, let's just say he didn't go for the dancing. Neither felt real. He didn't really know anyone in either life. It felt all a dream, but that might have been the sleep deprivation.
But this is all beside the point. Really the point was that one day, Mom sat him and Idi down and told them that her company had been vaporized in a battle between a giant Moth and the great Bull of Heaven, and the Spoon and the Knife had run away with all their money. They were going to have to move out of their expensive apartment box and go somewhere cheaper. Then she put her face in her hands and she cried. Not a single emo tear. Not a trickle that made her look tragically beautiful. Although, she was always pretty to Beauty. Great big racking sobs that shook her shoulders and left her gulping for breath.
That was the day that Beauty realized that his Mom was a person. Okay, yeah, he'd known it. But it had been an abstract concept. Like central air or electricity. That was when he knew it.
Idi stood there and stared at her. He said, "Mom, what about college?" Beauty wanted to hit Idi, but he couldn't and hold Mom at the same time. Beauty held her and for the first time, Mom felt small. He brushed his hand back and forth across her back. He breathed in the smell of Mom, which was kind of a mix of deodorant and fabric softener and her. He told her that it was going to be okay until she acted like she believed him. Until he believed it himself.
They left the City behind. Left the box apartment and the bus rides down to tiny clubs at 2am and all of it. Beauty had one life now and he wasn't sure what to make of that life.
The place that they ended up was a seedy little house next to a vacant lot on the far side of Ghastly Park. It had a view of trees. Cursed gnarled trees with orange leaves and blue flowers, but they smelled like summer to Beauty. He touched them and they shivered. He whispered to them sometimes and lay beneath the trees until the flowers covered him in blue sky.
Idi got a computer job that he complained about a lot. Mom got a job as a temp Bookkeeper. Beauty finished out high school in a strange school. Not that it mattered. He got a job at the garden supply store on the edge of the Ghastly, and from the first time he pushed his hands into fresh compost and felt it crumble, he knew what he wanted to do. He breathed in and his two lives in the City felt like someone else. A strange longing dream in the middle of the night that snapped as he pruned vines and trimmed branches. Watched the seasons spring and fall.
Then one day, Mom came in bouncing in her sensible low black pumps, powered up their Magic Mirror so they could SKYPE Adilah in from the other side of where he was saving the planet, and told everyone that something had happened and were getting a settlement. This time there were single track tears rolling down her cheeks, as she said, "We'll be able to pay off our debts. There'll be money for college." And Beauty kind of wanted it. He felt the beat of that old life, the life Mom didn't know about, that he was kind of afraid of, didn't know, couldn't say, hadn't said, was a lie in his own skin. He smiled and hugged her.
The next day, she got up bright and early and took the rattling bus through Ghastly Park so she could get a train into the City. Before she went, she asked each of them what they wanted. She felt like getting everyone a treat. From far way, Adilah laughed and asked for supplies. Idi looked kind of dreamy and wanted his own computer. Beauty shrugged. He couldn't say what he wanted. But Mom was looking at him, so he asked for a rose. She seemed kind of disappointed, but she was super charged in her sensible shoes.
He didn't worry when she didn't come home that night. No one went across the Ghastly after dark. The place was full of highwaymen and ghouls. The bus they'd taken to get there had had a machine gun turret and a flamethrower. Idi had thought it was cool. Beauty didn't really want to be anywhere that required a flamethrower.
He didn't worry until Mom came home the next day, grey faced, luggage under her eyes. All the vim had gone out of her. She stared at Beauty and held out a red Rose. Then she slumped down on a kitchen chair with her head in her hands. Beauty wrapped his arms around her. It felt like she'd gotten smaller still. He didn't ask what was wrong. He could feel the way the words would bubble up. When they did it didn't make much sense. Apparently, there hadn't actually been any money, and when she'd come back the bus had stopped at this rest stop in the park, and she'd picked a rose in the garden, but there was some sort of Beast (in addition to the highwaymen and the ghouls) living in Ghastly Park, and he'd put a geas on Mom, and now Beauty had to go live with him.
Mom got real quiet then. She said that, of course, he wasn't going, and that she'd go for him, because damned if any Beast was going to take her boy. She'd kill him first, but Beauty didn't know what she thought she was going to kill it with. He made her some Chamomile tea. He told the tea to help her sleep, and that seemed to work. He and Idi carried her to bed. Idi asked him what he was going to do, which was a stupid question, and they both knew that. Idi punched his shoulder and then looked away.
Beauty put several changes of clothes in his backpack, including his club wear, and on some consideration filled one of his socks with all his change (it was an easy weapon and yet, money), and his parrot beak secateurs. Then he walked into the park.
Ghastly Park was actually kind of nice in a strange desolate woods sort of way. Full of birds with human faces and deer with people eyes. He only ran into one ghoul and he told himself over and over, go fast, go fast, and he went oh-yeah fast. The highwayman who stopped him at the red bridge was actually really cute and wore very tight leather pants. Beauty felt this sort of tight spot in his gut and his heart beat very fast. It had been such a long time. But the Highwayman took one look at Beauty and said, "Oh, come on. That's just embarrassing. Get out of here."
Beauty walked on. Finally, he came to the rest stop. He went into the rose garden. It was really pretty, but kind of unloved. None of the roses had been dead headed and they were kind of growing every which way. He clucked at them, and for some reason (maybe because he was totally avoiding the Beast), he didn't go up the wide gravel path, but started cleaning up the garden. He'd made his way through the cabbage roses, which he told had been sadly neglected, but now that he was here to love them they would do better and was inhaling some of the rich curling heirlooms when someone cleared their throat.
That was when he saw the "Beast" and the only coherent thing he had to say was, "Oh, that's not good."
The Beast was hot. As in seven feet of muscular thighs in tight velvet (Beauty wanted to run his hands all over them, but his hands were covered in rose sap) and a wide lose yourself chest. He had a lion's face. A really sexy lion with wide golden eyes and a thick black mane. Beauty realized that he'd been staring, so he said, "Hi, I'm Beauty," which as a line that worked surprisingly well when clubbing. The Beast bowed and said, "Huh, I was expecting…" he trailed off.
Beauty sighed, just his luck. "A girl. Yeah, I get that." He waved his secateurs at the rose garden. "You really should take better care of your roses."
Beast looked kind of embarrassed. He looked at the gravel and then at the roses.
"So, uh, you know, if I'm not what you were expecting, I could, um, go." Beauty shrugged because what else was he going to do. He scratched the side of his nose. Almost poked his own eyes out, which was just brilliant.
Beast coughed in a sort of boom. "No. No." Then he turned around and Beauty guessed he was supposed to follow him, and since the view from the rear was nice, he did.
Beast did not live in a house. He did not live in a box. He lived in a marble palace full of warm soft carpets and rich dark paintings and tiny spaces just begging to be a nook for two. Beauty followed Beast up some carved wood stairs, the wood silky smooth under his fingers. Lights came on and off as they went into and out of rooms. It could be a spell. It could be the Clapper. Hopefully not the Clap. Hard to say. Finally, they came to a pretty princess room. Beast coughed, "Uh, this is your room."
Beauty looked at the room. He looked at Beast. Now it was true that he wasn't exactly butch, but seriously, a twelve year old girl with a unicorn fetish armed with a bedazzler would find this room a bit much. But what the hell. Beauty jumped up on the bed, which was like floating on a very comfy pink puff cloud. "Okay."
Beast kept his eyes fixed on the pink unicorn wallpaper. "Please, join me for dinner."
Beauty flopped back and stretched out his long legs, which he liked to think were his best feature. "Sure thing."
Beauty waited until Beast left before redecorating. It felt weird, because he'd never just done something like this. It had always been something secret. Something anonymous. Which in a way, made the whole thing feel kind of amazing. Kind of alive. Tilting the colors and the fabrics and textures and the smells until everything was just… soft. Then he got dressed in his best, "Let's fuck," clothes. Because as long as he was in the palace of a Beast in the middle of an enchanted forest, he wanted to put his best foot forward.
He went out the door and said, "Well?" A helpful light flickered down the hall. He followed the lights until he came to a banquet hall. A long table sat empty except for two chairs. Beast sat at one of them. Beauty's chair was at the other end, which the hell with that. Beauty dragged his chair down next to Beast, who, as he got a load of Beauty's pants and net shirt, said, "Err… uh," which was a start.
Beauty smiled brightly. "Hi." He sat down and leaned forward. "So, now that you've got me here, what next?"
Beast cleared his throat. Stared at something mid-way point across the room. "Uh, Beauty, will you marry me?"
Beauty paused. "I don't think that's legal." Decided that a marriage proposal indicated some sort of interest. He got out of his chair and slid into Beast's extremely comfortable lap. Brushed his fingers through Beast's mane, which was rougher than it looked, but there were short soft hairs underneath. Like a secret. Trailed his fingers up Beast's cheek.
Beast swallowed. Glanced at him. "Is that a yes?"
Beauty cupped Beast's face in his hands and kissed him. Strange and sharp and electric with cutting teeth. Breathed into him. "No." Offered him a truth. "If I don't know me, how can you know me?" Then he kissed him again. Sat there forever. Kept his hands on his face. Just kissing. Nothing more. Lips exploring new landscapes until they were breathless. Until he could feel Beast's heart pounding a familiar rhythm.
Beauty pulled away. Looked at Beast. Really looked into his wide golden eyes. He felt that doubled version of himself whispering to keep going, but he didn't. He slid off and said, "You mentioned dinner."
Beast stared at him. Then he laughed in long low booms until tears came from his eyes. Beauty rolled his eyes at him because it wasn't that funny. Then dinner served itself and it wasn't a t.v. dinner. Flavors Beauty had never imagined. Textures. Mingling on his tongue. That first meal, they didn't talk. Beauty inhaled. Then he got up. Brushed a hand on Beast's arm and left the room.
Lay in his very comfortable bed and told himself, "This is a very bad idea." He fell asleep on that thought.
The next day, he woke to the smell of delicious. He consumed breakfast in bed that sidled right up to him. Then he dressed in his working-est clothes and went to the defense of that poor neglected garden. Eventually, he looked up and Beast was sitting on a low bench watching him. For lack of anything else, Beauty talked to Beast about the dangers of aphids and dry rot and anything else that came to mind.
Lunch walked itself out. Then they went back to the palace. Beauty cleaned up. Re-clubwared himself and went down to dinner. Beast licked his lips and in a very hesitant voice asked Beauty to marry him. Beauty grinned and said, "No," slid into Beast's lap. Kissed his way down Beast's face. Played with the ridiculous lace of his shirt and looking up through his lashes, unlaced his way down.
Beast's breath caught in his wide chest. His heart beat a rapid drum. "What are you doing?"
Beauty grinned, because it was fairly self explanatory, and worked his way down. Beast didn't stop him. Just caught his breath. Beauty realized that he was purring in a long low vibration that set Beauty's mind to all sorts of things. He slid further down. Opened other things and explored his way to the end, and Beast's purr rumbled in his mouth. Until he was full of it. Beast's hands on his shoulders. Claws on his shoulders digging and piercing his skin enough to hurt. A sharp slight hurt that matched the grind of his knees into the soft carpet. Everything and nothing like those anonymous meetings in club bathrooms. Soft and sweet where they'd been hard and bitter. Beast tasted like Wild Clover honey that filled him with forever and a day. Beauty swallowed that all down. Greedy. He'd always been greedy for the more that he allowed himself in his divided life.
He sat back on his heels and looked up at Beast, who breathed like a marathon. His wide golden eyes dark in the candle light.
Beauty threw himself into his chair. He hated to say it, but it had to be said, "How about dinner? I'm starving."
Beast stared at him. Then he laughed in long low booms until tears came from his eyes. Beauty rolled his eyes at him, because it wasn't that funny. Then food sauntered over and was delicious at him. Beauty devoured, because, well, he really was hungry. And suddenly, halfway through, it really was kind of funny. So, they sat there laughing at the magical table eating the magically delicious food, which they occasionally threw at each other because they could.
After dinner, Beauty pushed his chair back and sighed. He supposed he should go back to his room, but he was kind of really seriously keyed up. He poked at his plate and then looked at Beast, who stared at him. Not wide eyed. Narrow. Predatory. Beauty knew that look. He got as far as, "So," when Beast pounced on him. The chair went left. They went forward until Beauty was pinned against the cold marble wall. He couldn't move his hands. He could hardly breath. Helpless. He liked it.
Beast's tongue was pebbled and rough like a great cat's. Purring and devouring him and then he really-really liked it. Prey under the growling Beast. But you know, in the good way.
When he'd oozed back together, Beast lay wrapped around him. Idly licking his cheek. He heard Beast ask, "Beauty, will you marry me?"
Beauty sighed and pulled himself together. Ran his fingers through his hair. Didn't answer, because that was answer enough.
He woke up in the morning and thought it was a dream until he stretched. Pains in strange places, marks on his skin that traced a pattern on down. He fell back into his cloud with a laugh. Then he threw on his clothes, raced through the cereal, whose bowl did a little dance at him and went down to the gardens.
Beast found him by mid-morning and he couldn't help but smile at him. Just laugh to see him. The dew on the roses, thorns pricks in love patterns on his wrists, and he told Beast the proper way to make compost, which meandered into a muse of could magic food be composted.
He made it as far as, "Maybe,' before he had other things to think about.
And yes, the smell of crushed rose petals drifting down impressed themselves into the very core of him then. He found himself going around the palace turning the wall paper to rose patterns. Beast watched him do it. Traced idle patterns in his skin. It was like heaven.
Except it wasn't. Because Beast would ask if Beauty would marry him. Kisses in alcoves and new uses for olive oil and sea salt, slick as the sea and surged. Beauty devoured. Consuming. Saying, "No." He hardly even knew why. Maybe because he was afraid it would stop.
Not that they didn't do other things, Beauty did have a brain or something. Beast showed him his library, which was full of a lot of very thick books. The library chair was nice though. What? Beauty was only human.
Beast showed him a room full of mirrors and glass, each one showing a different scene. Beauty watched Mom, luggage under her eyes. He listened to her too. Her and Idi. Adilah, struggling against illnesses he couldn't even see.
Weeks of that. Of alcoves and salt. Roses and watching and questions.
He watched his big brother, strong as the world, so far away. He watched him grow sick. He seemed almost close enough to touch. It would be nice at this point to say something nice, but in midst of everything, Beauty watched his big brother fade away and die. Watched the light fade from his eyes. Touched the mirror, but couldn't reach out to say goodbye.
Beauty slumped to the floor and he realized, in that moment, he hadn't known it, he wanted so much to tell Adilah who he was. What he was. Tell him. Speak to him. And he couldn't. So, he sat on the carpeted floor, patterned in roses, and he cried. Shudders that shook his shoulders and took his breath as Beast held him. Petted in a random pattern down his back. Whispering, "It will be fine. Rest. It will be fine."
In the morning, there was a note with breakfast. "Uzuri, it's time to go home." He stared at the paper a long moment. For a moment, he did not recognize his own name. The name of his birth.
Beauty felt. He didn't know what he felt. He stumbled down the stairs. Lights flickered in distress at him. He thought briefly of finding Beast, but really, he wanted Mom. He wanted her arms.
How he got home, he couldn't have said. He walked. Nothing bothered him. Not highwaymen. Not ghouls. Not man or Beast.
Until he came to his home, his tiny home. Mom opened the door at his knock. He didn't even know where he'd left his key. She took one look and she knew.
They cried together. Idi came home. They wept again. Clung to each other in the faded room.
That night, he slept in his narrow bed again. It felt like trying to crawl back into old skin. Old pants two sizes outgrown. He got up around 3 am. Found his mother in the kitchen. They stared at each other like two shucked ghouls. He smoothed his hands along the table top. Cheap formica smooth to the touch. He swallowed, dry phlegm that stuck in his throat. He opened his mouth to say what he had to say. Mom said, "I know, honey." She put her hand over his. "I know."
He shook then. Trembled like a runner. She looked down, "But I think you need to tell me." So, he did. He told her himself. As he spoke, he knew who he was then. He'd known that he hadn't know until this moment, but he hadn't known what that meant. He brushed the table with his hands and he asked it to be it's better oak self, and it was.
He stood up. "I've got to go back."
Mom stood up. She had her purple traveling purse in her hand. She gave him a Mom look. "Beauty, I didn't follow you once. If you think I'm letting you go back without me, you are mistaken. Now jump in the shower so you'll look nice when when we get there. And put on some clean underwear."
He opened said, "But Idi."
"He's an adult. He can put on his own underwear. He can come later." Mom put her hand on his shoulder and he remembered again that Mom was a person. It was all there in her eyes.
They walked back to the palace together. Through the forest with its ghouls. Mom beat one with her purse. The highwayman took one look and faded into the forest.
Finally, they got to the palace. When they got there, the roses were all dying. Petals scattered on the ground and curled on themselves. Beauty called out. "Beast. Where are you?" He ran. He ran up and down halls, but none of the lights flickered at him. He kept calling, "Beast. Where are you?"
He found him in the banquet hall. Asleep and grey at the table. Long streaks of white through his black mane. Beauty ran up to him. Wrapped himself around him. His breath was so faint. His heart a mere stutter. He whispered through his tears, "Don't die Beast. I'll marry you. Don't die."
Really, he should have expected it, but the room spun round twice and three times and seventeen. As he let go, his Beast was gone. In his place was a man. Still tall. Still hot. But not his Beast at all, but his eyes were the same. The man said, "Disappointed?"
Beauty curled into his lap. "No." He whispered in his ear. "I have my ways of making the Beast appear." Beast laughed. Great booming rolls that Beauty felt through his whole body. Beauty wasn't ready to laugh, but he leaned into Beast and breathed in. He whispered, "My mom's here. Downstairs. We should..."
Beast said, "Shhh..." and brushed his hands, fingers through Beauty's hair. "In a moment." Gathered him close and kissed him.
As Beauty came up, he said, "You know, I don't actually think it's legal for us to marry."
Beast kissed him again. Long. Slow. Deep. Then he said, "We can deal with that next."