dedication: to fall out boy, who carried me through this fic
notes: if i go down, y'all come with me.
title: from under the cork tree
summary: It's not supposed to be like this. — Beast/Beatrice/Wirt.
The dreams are like this:
He can't breathe, and then the lantern goes out. A girl laughs until she doesn't, and there's a hole in the world with lamps for eyes shining out of a face that isn't. She tips her head, empty-universe strands of hair falling down from a pair of tree-branch-stretch antlers shining red under a blood moon. The abyss of her mouth is a beaming jagged thing.
Who do you think you are? she smiles. Do you really think I'd let you go?
Wirt stumbles away from her reaching hands. His knees hit a ledge. "I don't," he shakes out, "I don't—"
Don't be silly. I'm still here, aren't I? And so are you!
She touches his face. It's like being plunged into ice water, chilled all the way down to his bones. Her eyes are white hollow nothing. She draws closer and closer, a sweep of void as cold as the farthest scope of the galaxy where there is nothing left alive. The birdsong trapped in her larynx presses out into the air. She's—it's—going to kiss him. Oh, god, it's going to kiss him, he's going to die—
Arms windmilling, Wirt trips backwards and falls, falls, falls.
He wakes with a strangled shout.
"Another dream?" she whispers.
"How'd you—" Wirt coughs around a dry throat. "How'd you get in?"
He doesn't think to ask how she's here. Of course she's here; there's nowhere else she could be. The Unknown is closer when the sun's down; the darkness creeps in without invitation when there's no light to burn it away. Beatrice's cheek is a soft press against the pillow.
"The window," she says, and her gaze flicks to something behind him. The curtains swish with the breeze.
She's not like the thing in the dream. This is the Beatrice he knows: whip-smart and sarcastic, always biting off more than she can chew, too loud, too much. But she's quiet, right now. Quiet as a grave, big-eyed in the darkness, she sort of grins out of the corner of her mouth at him.
"Where's Sara?" she asks.
"We broke up," he says, a little awkward, a little stiff. "Different schools."
"Oh," she says. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Wirt says, shrugs to let her know that it doesn't matter, because it doesn't matter. He's not really cut out for relationships, he's found—he gets too anxious and nervous and crazy in a way that's hard to deal with in someone you love. He understands, now, why his mom ditched his dad. Love is hard. That's all.
"Endings are always sad," she says. "Did you fight about it?"
If it had been anyone else, it would have been rude. But it's not, it's her, and Wirt's not afraid of telling her anything. She's seen him at his worst, freezing and soaking and turning into a tree. It doesn't get much worse than that, honestly.
"Nah," Wirt says. "We both decided we'd be better off."
This is a lie. Beatrice blinks slowly. She's human, tonight. Maybe that's what gives the game away.
"You're not really here, are you," he says before she can reply, and it's not a question.
Beatrice smiles. It's so sad he thinks he might die of it, the way the lines around her eyes pull down like she hasn't slept in a week. All the colour's leached out of her until she's nothing. She was a better bluebird than she ever was a human. "No, not really."
"I wish you were. I miss you," Wirt says. "Nothing makes sense."
"I miss you, too," she says. Her hands contract against his sheets, and it's sick, it's sick, because he's imagined her here before. He's imagined her here with the sun on her face, snickering you wonderful mistake of nature. And now she's here but she's not, and she's wearing a blue dress. Wirt always knew she would; blue dress, blue bird—it's only fitting. Her hair is indistinct. She's bleeding away, fuzzy at the edges.
"Don't go," he says, desperate with it. "Not yet."
"It's okay," she says quietly. "You're just falling asleep, again. I'll be here in the morning."
It's a lie, and they both know it. There's a tear in the pit of her eye. He wants to brush it away like so much dust, but his limbs have turned to lead. The whole world is too heavy a burden. He can't help but close his eyes.
Sleep's claim is swift, and Wirt is lost.
You know, this would be easier if you weren't so—you. This isn't healthy. Don't you ever listen? What would Greg say if he saw you like this? Oh, right, he wouldn't because you've gone away to college and you think you're too cool for your little brother now.
"This isn't a negotiation," Wirt says.
This isn't a negotiation, it parrots on a giggle. Like you even know what negotiation is! Oops, did I hit the nail on the head?
"Go away, I'm trying to sleep," he tells it, which is a blatant lie. He rustles through the bushes, searching for a hollowed-out tree. There's a home there, though he can't quite remember whose it is, just that he has to get to it and apologize.
You're trying to find me, it tells him, but you can't! There's no one but me anymore.
"You're not her," he says through grit teeth. The bushes have thorns, and there's blood on his fingers from where he's pricked himself. His shirt is streaked through with sweat, but he doesn't take it off. The bark on the branches flakes away like time. His hands go sticky with sap.
I ate her all up! I ate her soul and now we're the same, don't you get it? She's me, I'm her, we made a deal. You went home, and I got my lantern back, it says, and he can feel the slime of its grin over his shoulders like a film. I really like my lantern.
"You're the Beast," Wirt says. "The lantern went out. You're dead."
Well, yeah, it says, and the worst thing is that sometimes he can hear her in the inflection. It never used to talk like this. You snuffed it, but whatever, it was never about the light.
He doesn't want to ask what it was about.
Aren't you gonna ask? I know you want to. Everyone does.
"I don't," he mutters. "Don't give me that look. I don't—"
Liar! it laughs. You're pretty useless, you know that? C'mere, let me.
It curls around his back, but doesn't touch him. The wood melts away beneath its hands, leaving nothing but a lush tangle of vines. There are flowers down below, little white-petaled things that look like they've not had enough sun. He stretches for them.
This is where we met, it says, fondly. Remember?
"No," Wirt says, and his voice is dull, because he doesn't remember. Greg knew her first. Greg is better at this, Greg should be here, Greg who understands belief and goodness and trust. The flower in his hand turns to ash and floats away, dandelion seeds on the wind.
Don't be dumb, it scolds. You remember, I know you do.
"Beast," Wirt starts.
Beatrice, it—she—says. Beatrice, get it right.
"Bea," he says, and it's a compromise that he doesn't want but that he can't help. She won't answer to anything else, and she's not—she's not herself, not like this, not when he can't see her run her hand through her hair even though he knows she must. "What happened to you?"
I clipped my wings, she says, and her smile widens. What, don't you like it?
He can't answer that.
Not honestly, anyway.
Watch out! she laughs. She's always laughing. Time to wake up!
Wirt falls out of bed.
Wirt falls out of bed and stares at the ceiling, arms splayed across the floor. Her smile is on his lips, and he's hard, he's so hard, he's never been harder in his whole life. God, he's glad he doesn't have a roommate, because anyone else would think he was crazy, getting wood over what amounts to a nightmare.
He can't help it, though.
"Don't," he says aloud. "Don't do it, Wirt, don't fucking do it, I swear to god, don't.
He lasts all of three minutes.
And then Wirt's spitting into his hand and skimming down to palm his dick through his sleep pants. And it's everything, it's hot and slick and tight, but not enough, not her—
(This is still not the most fucked up thing he's ever done, but it's getting pretty close.)
He comes with a choked cry and pretends that he says anything but her name.
She's wearing crown made of flowers. It sits on her branch-antlers oddly, a burst of colour on an otherwise-blank shadow.
What do you think? she asks, bent over a still pool of water, tipping her head back and forth as she admires herself. Should I keep it?
"You look awful," Wirt tells her.
Aww, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me! she coos as she swoops up to wrap herself around him. She's only cool today, or maybe he's just getting used to it, but he doesn't freeze down to his soul when the ink of her skin presses against his pale pink meat. The crown smells like summer, apple blossoms and freesia wound liberally 'round her head, and Wirt has to fight himself not to touch them.
It's a losing battle.
Her hair slides through his fingers like sand.
What are you doing, she says.
"I don't know."
It's almost a confession, almost. Alarm rolls off her in waves, and she's perfectly still under his hands. She's more Beatrice than Beast, more stars than sky, more full than empty.
It's not supposed to be like this.
He's off her like a burn. They look at each other for a moment—awkward boy-almost-man, too tall, still gangly, and a dark thing without a face. She never had the chance to grow up. The curve of her hip is a meagre thing.
She holds out the lantern. It swings between them, glowing again, a merry lamp to brighten up the night. The trees stretch overhead like cracks in the sky.
Take it, she says, swallows hard. Take it, Wirt. Make this real.
Wirt breathes in.