The rose was the heart of the problem. Pretty, but not lovely. Soft and red, but covered in thorns. It had stabbed him when he took it from me. He nearly threw me out of the castle right then. But it was still pretty, and so was I. So I stayed, dripping on the marble floors, shivering from the cold. The rose was the only thing I could offer in exchange for shelter, but of course, it was so much more.
Weeks later, on that last day, it had turned to gold. He'd put it in a vase on his desk. Most mornings I'd sat with him in there, and he compared it to my lips. But it was dying, as plucked roses do, and I was leaving, as I had always meant to.
He was angry when I told him. “You belong here,” he said. “With me,” he said. He was beautiful when he said this. He never failed to be the most beautiful thing in the room. One day we had gone through a mirror-filled maze underneath his eccentric palace, and I’d gotten drunk off of his image, golden and gilded and everywhere again and again and again. He was almost like me in that way, magic.
I was still a bit drunk when I told him I was leaving. His image had pooled itself into the empty crevices in my chest, and when he smiled at me that last time some wonderful feeling (had it been love?) had filled me to the brim. I should have left right then. Instead, I took that damn dying flower and I kissed it.
“Something to remember me by,” I whispered as I handed it to him. It was changing, turning to gold from the inside out. He held it in his graceful hands, this newly lovely thing. It was precious, something that would pay for the entrance of a hundred storm-soaked girls, as it once had paid for mine. It had always been precious, but he didn’t realize this. He didn’t realize that this new image was merely a revelation- it’s true essence turned out. And that was the heart of the problem.
He grabbed me after I gave him the rose, long fingers hard around my wrist. “Enchantress,” he called me. “Beauty.” I had turned a rose into gold. He prized me for it. “You cannot leave.”
Beauty. His home was beautiful and he was beautiful and I made things beautiful and I belonged here. He pleaded with me as I shook my head harder and harder and harder. I tried to make him understand. I did not make things beautiful. I revealed them for what they were. He did not believe me; he did not understand, he did not listen. He did not let me go. His eyes were wide and resplendent. His mouth, full and sweet. "Beauty," he called me, as I cried.
He dragged me into the library, the most magnificent room in the palace. We’d loved to sit here, among the spines of a thousand jeweled books. They were the loveliest things I’d ever seen. When I crashed against the shelves as we fought that night, they fell and fell and fell. Each of them was empty. The pages were blank. There was nothing inside those exquisite gilded covers.
He forced me through the hall of mirrors. We were multiplied into dozens of struggling pairs. Dozens of his hands held my neck and my jaw and my hips. Dozens of his lips were drawn back in snarls as I struggled and pulled away. I found myself staring at one of my reflections, and she stared back at me. Her eyes were glittering. His back was hunched and terrible.
He took me to the tower. The ceiling was glass, the stars shining through it. The moonlight cast strange shadows onto his face, making his eyes seem too deep-set, his jaw too heavy. His cheeks seemed to sink and hollow. His hand felt too large around my waist when he finally let me go. He shut the door with a bang that made me flinch. He lit the torch next to it, and it's light drowned out the stars.
In this room, he had once compared the sky to my eyes. Now, he shut the sky out, and he shut me in. The room became small and claustrophobic. He was too big for it, looming over me, his shadow twisted and dark. The last of that wonderful feeling, that perfect, golden feeling inside of me melted away. The only evidence that it had ever been there was the rose he still clutched in his hand. He held it more gently than he had ever held me.
Beauty. He had only ever wanted beauty. If only he understood what that was. When I looked up, I saw myself in the glass. I saw myself curled beneath him. When I looked into my reflection's eyes, I saw anger where I felt only sadness.
I did not recognize his reflection. It was something new, and terrible.
I looked at him then. Really looked at him, as he crouched above me. I stared into his resplendent eyes, and I witnessed the corruption inside of him.
He roared at me. I was underneath him, small and empty of love, but full of something new and dark. My hand flew up and found his jaw. My nails dug into his skin. I looked him in his beautiful face. “Beast.” I hissed back.
I felt his breath catch, and when I pushed him, he stumbled. I rose as he fell. The torch blew out with a sudden gust. Blackness poured out of my cracked heart as the shadows returned to his face and took ahold of it. His body shook as his bones broke and regrew and warped. He howled as his back hunched. His jaw lengthened. Inside of his mouth were dozens of teeth, sharp and gnashing at me. “Enchantress,” he whimpered. “Witch,” he shrieked. Hair, coarse and black, was sprouting from his long, trembling hands. He cried out as a tail snaked out of his back. He was clawing at his face, tearing gouges into his small, milky eyes. “What have you done to me?” He sobbed and his body convulsed and contorted in bloody transformation. No, revelation. Beast.
When it was over, he collapsed, gasping. The rose fell to the floor with a clang. I picked it up. The gold was sticky, melting into my hands. Underneath, the rose was rotting and black. As I held it, petals dripped and fell away. They landed on his huge, shuddering shoulders, gentle as a kiss. I threw the rose down, next to his harrowing, harrowed face. He shrunk away from it, away from me, as I stood over him, horrified and triumphant. “This is what you are,” I said. There was fear in his eyes as he gazed at me, and sadness too; the same heartbroken sadness that was engulfing me. Maybe you did love me once. That hurt more than a goddamn thorn. Between us, the rose gleamed. Still gold, just a bit. Beauty. The heart of the problem. I looked at it.
“When that has died completely,” I told him, “there is no hope for you.” I backed away from him. I opened the tower door and left him curled on the floor. But then I hesitated. I stopped. I looked back at the broken creature that had once been -had always been- the man I had treasured.
“I hope you can change,” I said, quietly. But it would take more than magic to do that; to fix this ruin, this nightmare, this curse; to fix him. Beast.
I turned and walked away. I slammed the door behind me.