For those of you who have been reading along, here's part IV of my fairy-tale retelling of Beauty & the Beast. No idea what's going on or need to go back and re-read? Here's Part I, II, and III. If you're a visual lover, here's the inspiration board for this story.
Every single comment means so much, so thank you thank you - apologies in advance for being very cruel and leaving you on a cliffhanger. I'd like to point out that I decided to give you part four AND five because I felt bad about giving you so little. Also, I'd love to hear what you think will happen next. Any guesses?
Over the next week, she fell into an odd, but pleasant sort of routine. Stopping by Brooklyn every two or so days to peruse Adam’s library, switch out newly bound-books for ones in severe need, slowly converse more and more with Adam who – she learned – was in and out of the house multiple times each day, and to exchange insults with Lee.
“What does your name mean?” he asked randomly when she arrived one afternoon, nearly a week after the subway incident.
Alina blinked, surprised. “Light.”
“Hmm, sounds Italian,” he said interestedly. “Aaaaaaaaaaaalinaaa! Bella Alina!” he cried out in a horrible Italian accent, pinching his thumb and finger together, gesturing wildly. “Bellina, Aliniana beautiful Alina!”
She raised an eyebrow, biting back a smile at his ridiculous display. And inwardly glad Adam wasn’t present to hear all this ‘beautiful’ talk being thrown around.
“It’s a Greek name. And I’m Scottish, not Italian.”
Lee deflated mid-gesture, his mouth rounded in an O. “Well, that’s just wrong...pity you’re not actually Italian. Or, you know, beautiful. You’re not even really pretty, though.” He scrutinized her and shrugged, twirling a kitchen knife between his fingers. “I’d do you if you were,” he offered magnanimously. “For free, too.”
Alina stared at him blankly. Hurt spilled into her lungs, squeezing the air from them. Her scar felt heavy and hideous on her lips – not even enough for Lee to consider, a little voice mocked. A new low.
“What? I said for free! That’s a compliment,” Lee reassured her.
She got up, blinking back tears. “Right. Silly me,” she mumbled and fled.
“You’re welcome!” he called down the hall after her.
Alina made it to the library and collapsed, sinking down by the fireplace. She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to keep it in, push back everything she’d held down for so long.
Stupid, idiotic – did you really think you’d ever be enough again – broken…all you’ll ever be -
‘Just like her mother...except for that nasty scar.’
A sob tore from her throat and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold her heart, catch the splintering pieces digging deeper with her – sharper and colder – stealing her breath. Rage flared up, stinging her eyes with hot tears. Alina’s hand clenched over her mouth; she rubbed at her scar roughly, gasping for breath. As if she rubbed hard and angrily enough, she could wipe it away, feel smoothness beneath her fingers...be whole once more.
She froze, mid-sob at the rough, deep voice that carried in the hush of the dark library. Alina stumbled to her feet and lurched against the fireplace mantle.
“Sorry, I just -”
She caught a faint glimpse of her eyes, huge and dark in her pale face, still streaming tears. She hurriedly wiped them and turned away from the cruel, mocking mirror. The scar was still there.
He moved forward urgently, towering above her.
"Why are you crying?"
Adam’s fingers lifted, the faintest brush against her face. As if he hardly dared touch her. His hand lingered in the air, trembling, a breath away from her cheek, the space in between her skin and his vibrating with fraught tension.
Alina shook her head, trying to choke back the mutinous liquid. There was no point in rehashing Lee’s stupid comments – he hadn’t meant it cruelly. "It’s nothing."
The thrumming intensified and then vanished as his fingertips lowered from her face. They carefully wrapped around her wrist - cool and calloused against her racing pulse, holding her as carefully and painstakingly as one of the precious roses twisted in the ivy.
She dared to look up. His dark eyes, black in the shadowed room, fixed on her.
"I used to...to feel beautiful," she whispered at last. "And I haven't felt that way - in a long time. Beautiful things...aren't the same after they're broken."
The dark eyes regarded her steadily as she went on, words spilling from places she'd never know existed.
“And I know I've never been beautiful. I'm just ordinary. But now, I don't even feel beautiful. In any way. I just feel..."
"Broken," he said softly.
"Yes," she whispered, eyes brimming over again.
His grip tightened around her wrist more securely and he stepped closer, the heat of his body warmth enveloping her.
Alina looked up at him, at the pale thin scars winding over the strong, elegant face. Even despite the faded lines, she could still see the man he once was.
A crooked smile pulled at his mouth."I spent my entire life surrounded by beautiful things and people, Alina Barra. And it stopped meaning anything..." Adam bent his head closer, forehead brushing against hers.
"Because it's ordinary to love what's beautiful," he whispered, his breath warm against her lips. "But to find the beauty in what's ordinary...that's something to live for."
Blood thrummed in her pulse, stealing strength from her knees. Just like in the subway, she felt boneless, like she was falling.
Only his firm grip kept her standing, ever so gently pulling her towards him –
Something clattered in the hallway. The door banged open.
“Zvijer!” Lee burst in, panic in his voice. “I just got a call. Iain – he just killed another one. Vince.”
Adam straightened up, his fingers leaving her wrist instantly. Alina shivered, suddenly cold. He grabbed his jacket and jerked it on, his eyes hard flint. “Stay here,” he ordered without looking at her. “You’ll be safe.”
The door slammed behind them, her hand still hanging mid-air where he’d held it.
Alina blinked. “Okay.”
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.
Two hours later, a creak in the hallway alerted her of their return. She stood just someone stumbled through the door – Adam, supporting a limp figure. A slight moan escaped the latter and Alina gasped as Lee’s head rolled forward into the light, badly bruised. Blood trickled down his nose and one eye was purple.
“They corned him, four to one,” Adam grunted, bowed under the weight of the almost-unconscious boy. “Help me lay him down.”
She rushed forward and slipped an arm around Lee; together they managed to drag him forward and lower him onto the couch. Alina hurried to the kitchen, wet a hand towel, and slipped back to the room. A first aid kit, shabby and nearly depleted, sat by Adam’s heels as he applied disinfectant to the worse of Lee’s open wounds.
“You’re okay?” She scanned him anxiously, but saw nothing other than disheveled hair and a slight bruise on his cheek.
Adam’s gaze didn’t move from Lee. “I’ve been on the streets longer than he has...you learn how to fight out of a corner pretty quickly.”
She knelt down next to him and concentrated on wiping any trace of blood and dirt on Lee’s face, willing her hands not to tremble.
Breathe...don’t think about – fists smashing into bodies – the click of a gun – Adam trying to drag the boy to safety.
Her fingers shook.
Adam’s administrations halted next to her. His hand closed around hers, warm and solid, jerking her out of her thoughts.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed raggedly, trying to calm her racing heart. “I can do this, I just -”
Brief confusion clouded his eyes, instantly replaced by understanding. He kept her hand in his as she tried to turn back to Lee.
“Alina.” Quiet, commanding. Gentle.
She lifted her gaze to him, aware of the fear in her face; she inhaled, squaring her shoulders with determination. I can do this, she told him wordlessly. Let me help you.
“I’m taking you home,” he said calmly. I know you can. You already have. He lifted her up, his grasp gentle. Let me help you now.
“You’re sure you have the key?”
Alina turned on the doorstep to face him, thrusting her hands in her coat pockets. “Yep. See?” She pulled out the small golden piece of metal, instinctually glancing around them. They’d kept to the shadows on Adam’s motorcycle which was parked two streets over. He’d insisted on walking the rest, his hand on the small of her back as he’d scanned their surroundings intently.
He stared at her now, his features thrown into sharp relief by the streetlights. She wrapped her coat tighter around herself at the faint rumble of thunder. Somehow this was how they always parted, on her doorstep with wet shadows and night all around them.
“Alina...what happened tonight...” he hesitated. “Will probably happen again. Iain won’t stop, not until there’s a full-blown bloodbath.” He stopped again, searching for words. Dark eyes looked down at hers, stormy and...regretful? “It’s not safe to be around me anymore.”
Her hand tightened; the jagged edge of the key dug into her skin, piercing sharply through the abrupt daze. Stay standing -
Adam continued, oblivious to her shock. “Lee and I need to disappear underground for a while. No more visits, no more contact - I’m not going to give Iain another person to hurt. He wants control of the gang, he can have it.”
She finally found her voice. “You think that’s going to help?” Angry tears choked her throat, made her tone harsher than she meant. Ignoring his startled look, she plunged on.
“Iain – isn’t going to stop just because you leave...If anything, that’s going to encourage him, give him more of a motive to hunt you down. He won’t rest until he knows you’re not a threat anymore!”
Adam’s face hardened. “And what do you know about any of this? You’ve spent your whole life in a bookshop.”
“I know enough to stay alive – without losing my morality,” she spat.
"Don't treat me like some vigilante," he growled. "That's not who I am, Alina. I don't keep the streets safe, I don't have some secret mission. So if you have some dammed fantasy in your head about a fairy-tale ending, I suggest you forget it.”
“No, I don't - I want you to do the right thing. Go to the police, put him behind bars!”
“Are you out of your mind?” he snarled, stepping up on the doorstep.
She shrank back against the door involuntarily as he towered over her, his eyes flashing.
“There’s at least twenty warrants out for “Zvijer”! I’ve spent the past five years trying to stay alive, so if you expect me to waltz straight into their arms, think again.”
“So what then?” she yelled back. “How many people are you going to let die?!”
“I am not a hero!” Adam roared, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Do you understand me? There is nothing and no one that I care about enough to fight for!”
The breath left her body.
Paralyzing silence stretched out, broken by a second rumble of thunder. She stepped back, her eyes fixated on his jacket collar.
Drip. Drip. As if mirroring her emotions, a slight drizzle began to fall in a mournful whisper.
“Get away from me,” she whispered, her chin trembling.
He was frozen, his hands still around her shoulders. “Alina -”
“Get. Away. Before I call the police...Zvijer.”
Adam stepped back unsteadily onto the street. She turned, fitted the key into the lock with a twist, and pushed inside, slamming the door behind her. Alina stayed there, pressed against it and waited for his shadow to disappear. Then and only then, she let herself slump down and sob - furious at him and at herself, at her stupidity. At the horrible, awful rain that had begun this all.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day
Eventually her tears slowed; she leaned her head back against the door, filling her lungs with air. The shop was silent, as if respectfully wrapping itself in quiet darkness while she wept. Alina rubbed her eyes dry. Thankfully, her dad was out like a light– the sleeping pills that he’d taken ever since the accident ensured he was a heavy sleeper.
She pushed herself up unsteadily and caught sight of a crumpled receipt by the young adult shelf just ahead of her. Great...she’d forgotten to take out the trash. Swallowing, she took two steps and bent down, smoothing it out. A copy of Tennyson’s In Memoriam.
Her lips tightened.
If she wrenched the trashbag up roughly and slammed the back door a little louder as she stomped through the mist of rain to the dirty green trash bin in the back alleyway, no one could blame her. She tossed the trash and bit back a gag at the ripe odor – wet pages and rotting vegetables.
A hand slammed over her mouth, yanking her backwards.
“So you’re his not-so-beautiful little beauty,” Iain’s voice hissed in her ear. “Shhh, no screaming Not yet.”
Disobediently, Alina screamed with all her might, thrashing desperately in his grip, but his hand was too large and heavy.
Something squeezed her neck – she sagged, sharp blackness crowding her vision.
A loud rip of duct tape. Hands grabbed her, pressed cold tape against her mouth. Up, thrown over a shoulder, obliterated by darkness and dripping water.