So many stories end with the “happily ever after” but rarely talk about what that means. What is happily ever after? No one knows because no one knows what it is to be happy forever.
— Tome of the Lost Redoubt, Musings of an Immortal Book
After three years of traveling together, even a downpour didn’t slow Beauty and Daman from assembling the camp at one of the abandoned sites they had found. They worked in relatively silence with Beauty hanging up the cords and canvas while her prince hammering in the spikes to keep it steady despite the wind rippling around them. As soon as she finished tying off the last of the rope, she gave the canvas a shake and made sure the small ditch made from rocks and a shovel would direct the water away from them and further downhill.
“Looks good, my queen.”
“And you, my prince. You good?”
He stood up. The rain had plastered his shirt against his body, outlining his defined muscles and slender form. He had stripped out of his trench coat after slipping into a stream. It remained underneath the first set of shelters they had assembled to shield their supplies; they had left the horses in town with the intent of returning in a day or two. “Well, the tent looks good, you look better, and I can’t wait to have you naked in my roll soon.”
A warmth bubbled up, pushing back the chill from the water that slipped past her coat and nipped at her legs. With a faint blush, she gave the canvas another shake before gesturing to the stone ring that had been set into the ground by someone else. “You want something to eat before you ravish me? Or just go into it cold?” Arching her back, she gave him a sultry smile.
Daman looked between her and the pit. Then he stepped forward until his soaked chest pressed up against hers.
She lifted her lips, catching her breath with anticipation.
“Dinner would be nice,” he said with a grin and then returned to pounding in the spikes.
Beauty opened her mouth in mock rage, but her smile ruined it. “Do you propose lighting strikes or should I get the alchemical pot? I know we have a pack of the smoked rabbit from earlier. Nothing else enjoyable, just some hard tack and weak wine.”
“A meal fit for a queen.”
“Your queen would like something just a tad more formal, maybe on a plate or with a little sweet to go along with the teeth-breaking crunch.”
Daman chuckled. “I’ll have something for you… once we’re done eating.”
Another flush of heat. “Tease.”
“It’s been days. Hurry up, I’m erecting more than a tent right now.”
She slogged through the rain to the other shelter and gathered up her supplies. The alchemical pot was a metal container filled with a blue slime. She poured it out on some soaked wood. Carefully wiping her hand, she pulled out a box of white metal sticks and selected one. Cringing, she jammed one into the slime and stepped back.
The liquid and the metal interacted with a flash of light and then a blue, almost transparent, flame burst into life. The acrid smell of the chemicals followed her to the packs. By the time she unpacked their meal, the sharp smell had faded and there was nothing but heat with very little light.
She cooked their meals quickly with a pot nestled inside the slime and the rabbit on a skewers to keep it away from the concoction; it burned well, but tasted horribly.
Beauty finished soon after Daman had finished arranging their tent for the night. Seeing the soft roll spread open invitingly, she shivered with a need for warmth and intimacy. But eating food on the same bed that she hoped to enjoy her love didn’t appeal to her.
She carried their food through the rain to an outcropping a hundred feet away and downhill from their camping location. Daman had already set up a simple shelter by tying branching together. It was wet, just cool, but safe.
He reached up for her as she sat down, one hand on her hip and the other steadying the plate until she could sit down next to him. “Hello, gorgeous.”
“My prince,” Beauty sighed as she settled into place. They pressed their knees together and used it as a shared surface for the steaming meat and chunk of brittle, dense bread.
They ate in relative silence. It didn’t bother Beauty like it used to. After three years of traveling together, they had exhausted many of the conversations between them. When it got to be rehashing of either shared experiences or their past, the words died away into a comforting presence.
She smiled to herself and leaned on his shoulder.
“Thinking about Lanier?”
“I wasn’t until you brought it up.”
“Sorry. It’s just been rattling in my head ever since we left.” He let out a groan and traced his fingertips along the back of hers before grabbing another hunk of sliced meat.
There was a hesitation, short but perceivable. “The future.”
The muscles in Beauty’s neck tensed up. His words were cagey, hiding his intentions. “You mean if we should follow zirs list?”
“Zi? Yeah, that’s it. Zi had some biting words to me while you were still half-conscious.”
“About chasing after the past.” Daman sighed unhappily and set down his plate. “I don’t think Lanier thinks highly of our quest to get the Beast back.”
“No, zi doesn’t.” Beauty grinned and reached out to clasp his hand. She turned to look at her love. “Do you want to keep going?”
His brown eyes flickered to the side. “Do you?”
“Well, I want whatever would make you happy.”
Daman groaned and shook his head. “I’m going to the same thing. We want the best for the other, but what is the best? Should we keep going? I feel that we’re at a crossroad now. Both paths lead home back to the palace, but I think we are going to be two very different set of lovers based on what we choose.”
She nodded with agreement.
Daman sniffed. “I miss being the Beast, I really do. I like that power, that rush of being… capable.”
“You also smelled bad when you came in from the rain.”
His eyes glittered and leaned forward. “I could also smell you from across the room. That scent was always so seductive, like a perfume that only you could wear.”
Her cheeks warmed up.
Daman brought her hand up to his lips. “I could feel the beat of your heart when you came close and hear those quiet little moans in the back of your throat whenever I pressed you against the wall or held you tight.”
Beauty let out a whimper.
His eyes tensed for a moment. “It sounds different, it feels different. For years, all I wanted to do was be human again.”
Daman’s eyes softened and then he smirked. “Now, it feels like I traded something that gross, destructive, and primal for this nearly perfect body that hasn’t had a pimple in years.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s terrible being nothing but a mere human so beautiful that men, women, and lions throw themselves at just to be with you.” She rolled her eyes and then lean forward to kiss him lightly. The brush of their lips together brought another wave of warmth through her body. “It isn’t… that bad of a form, if I had to pick one.”
“Do you still miss the Beast?” he asked in a quiet voice.
Beauty hesitated and then nodded. “Probably for the same things. You were wild then. I loved running my hands through your fur and the feeling when you wrapped your arms around me and I felt tiny and protected.”
“And all those stops in the stairwell?”
Her blush came back. “Not everything is about sex, you know. Or your so-called ‘log’ that you probably miss the most.”
He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. “You ever notice that we don’t have as much sex since I transformed?”
She did and a small part of her missed the far more primal sessions that she wanted to admit. She cleared her throat and shifted closer. “Maybe, but what if that is just growing old together?”
“It’s only been three years.”
“Well, I heard you stop doing the fun things a few months after you say ‘I love you.’ I mean, we had a talk about that earlier.”
He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close.
She set aside the plate to lift herself up so she could straddle his lap. Setting down, she could feel his hardness and a welcoming heat of her own.
“Now, Beauty, I do love you with all my heart.”
“I can feel,” she said with a grin.
“No, I’m serious. I love you more than life itself. I love you with the beauty… shine of an undying rose on a pedestal. I love you more than the sun, the moons, and the clouds above us.”
As if listening, a flash of lighting brightened the sky.
“And the lightning too.”
She draped her arms over his shoulders and brought her body tight against his. Her lips caught his and they kissed again. It was short but sweet. “And I love you more than all the dancing furniture in the world, the spells and the riches. If we gave up every jem and cuk we had today, I would still be the richest woman in the world.”
Daman cupped her buttocks with his hands and pulled her tight. He let out a moan and kissed her lips, and then her chin.
She lifted her head and enjoyed the touch of his lips as he traced down to her collar and over to her shoulder. Even through her coat, the pressure felt good.
“Need to remove this.”
“I’ll get wet.”
“Yes,” he muttered into her shoulder. Releasing one hand, he reached up and worked at the front of her outfit.
She joined him, pulling open her clothes until she could push it off her shoulder and let him resume his caresses along the delicate skin. She moaned at the touch.
When he reached his limits, he kissed back to her throat and then to her lips.
The question still hung over them. She could feel it haunting her, as if she couldn’t enjoy the passion without it being answered. “Can you live with me if you never become the Beast again?”
He stopped, his eyes focusing on hers.
The longing was there, she could feel it rising up and demanding she say no. It was a hunger, one that may never be fed again, even if they spent thirty years trying. She sniffed as her eyes blurred with tears and she stared at the man she loved with all her heart. “I think I can, if that is what you want.”
“I don’t, but…” He sighed. “If I had to choose between fifty years of… having my life frozen in hopes of getting him back and taking you home to treat you like the queen you are for those same fifty years…” His voice trailed off.
He smiled and kissed her. He cleared his throat and got a tighter grip on her buttocks. “I think this time, I’m going to cling to love and take you back home.”
The words felt like a knife in the stomach but also a blossom of brilliance in her heart. A tear ran down her cheek as she kissed him. “Then, I want to go home with you.”
“To spend the rest of your life with me?”
“Yes,” she giggled. “To spend the rest of our lives together, man and woman, in love.”
He squeezed her ass and pulled her into a kiss.
She melted into his embrace, kissing and touching as she tugged at his clothes. It didn’t matter if rain would soak them to the bone or the cold that nipped her bare shoulder, there was a warmth waiting for her.
Daman broke the kiss. “Can you really live without my immense log.”
“Your ‘log,’ as you call it, is plenty fine with me. It fills me up just right anyways.”
“Let me take you back to the tent and let’s make sure.”
She held up a finger. “I believe, you said that you were going to do something first.”
A rumble of thunder shook the ground around them. And then another flash of lightning.
“Something about getting on your knees?” She squeezed her thighs to make a point.
He grinned. “Oh, yes. Definitely. New plan. I’ll get my very warm and wet desert and then I’ll make sure you’re happy with my log since you’re going to be getting it for many years to come.”