Everyone in the village of Arcaedea knows not to wander in the woods.
Their lord still lives there - their taxes, left in the box just outside of town, are always collected - but no one has seen them since the strange lights about fifteen years ago, and the brave souls who went to investigate returned with news that there were candles in the windows, but the gates locked tight.
After a few years, tensions relaxed in the village in the shadow of the woods. They're still protected, after all. Somehow. It just becomes accepted knowledge that to wander in the woods is to invite strange sightings, so better stay in the village. It's better for everyone that way.
Clarke is a little blonde girl, getting into more trouble than she ought to be, smiling and happy with Wells at her side, painting and coloring-
-dodging the rumors of romance with her friend and the dodging unwanted advances until everyone in Arcaedea knows not to mess with the "princess" or she'll sock them in the teeth, Wells laughing all the way.
The woods is watching as she grows, wishing to paint flowers all day but falling into step with her medically minded mother.
Her father is an engineer who can't stop tinkering long enough to be thought anything but mad.
Clarke loves Jake Griffin with a daughter's fierce pride, not overlooking his eccentricities but embracing them. Her mind is clever, as it ought to be with her two brilliant parents, and she turns that problem-solving power towards helping her father with his newest invention.
And when he rides off as summer falls with the contraption in a cart to take it to the next town over - only Jake Griffin would be fool enough to ride through the woods, the whispers go - he leaves Clarke with promises to take her next time.
But the leaves turn to gold as summer gives way to autumn, and Jake Griffin doesn't return.
Poor Abby, the whispers go. Brilliant respected woman, fool husband.
Abby holds her head up high, turns away from the gossip, even when their horse comes careening back into town alone, and Clarke doesn't hesitate to jump astride it and ride back into the woods to find "even his body!"
Poor Abby, the whispers go. Fool husband and fool daughter.
The woods are dark, and cold, but the horse leads Clarke back through the woods.
After two days, she regrets not packing, but she refuses to turn back and there are rivers for water with a few berries.
When the wolves come, Clarke doesn't think but to goad the horse forward, doesn't think to look at the coat of arms on the gates inside of which she manages to save herself, and the horse.
It's a girl, the whispers go as she walks through the house.
She's so hungry and tired, she chalks it up to exhaustion until she practically trips over a timepiece wearing goggles and the candelabra that turns out to be his best friend.
Then Clarke is convinced she's hallucinating, right up until a shadowy figure with glowing eyes and claws drags snarls his way from the shadows.
But she's Clarke Griffin and to hell with devils, she can make deals like anyone, crossroads or no.
The only moment of regret is when her fingers wrap around her father's wrist, then his watch, and then empty air.
"You didn't let me say goodbye."
Yellow eyes alight with rage dampen suddenly with grief so complete Clarke almost tumbles back down the stairs.
As quickly as those humanizing emotions fill his eyes, they're gone and then she's throwing herself at a locked door, hurling abuses with all the precision only a girl who grew up listening to hollering medical patients can boast of.
Then the wardrobe starts laughing.
The wardrobe is Raven, who particularly hates the curse because it leaves her trapped in a room, unable to move and fix things the way she used to.
It's Raven that Clarke talks to, locked in her room with the wardrobe.
None of the objects, or servants, really know exactly what happened. All they know is just after the old lord and lady's death, the grief still newborn in their "far too responsible" son, suddenly there's a cold wind rushes through the castle and they're animate objects.
Raven was fixing a squeaky hinge when she fused with the wardrobe.
The timepiece is Jasper. He's awkward but a little adorable, as is the candelabra, Monty.
When Clarke is chatting with Raven her first evening locked in, and her stomach rumbles because she hasn't eaten in three days, it's those two that sneak her down into the kitchens.
Octavia, the tea pot, throws a massive party for Clarke - who's trying to enjoy the show of dancing cutlery but is mostly distracted by the improbability of it all - and a particularly cross teacup, Murphy - though everyone tries to call him Chip - spends the whole number muttering about the hell to pay later when the master finds out.
It's two days of sneaking out of her room - or the servants sneaking her food - when there's an unfamiliar voice at her room's door.
"Um," starts a low, kinda gravelly and unsure voice.
There's a cough and what sounds like Octavia muttering "hurry up you dumb fluffy idiot jerk."
Another cough, shuffling, and then what sounds like Monty hitting a wall.
"Clarke, will you do me the honor of joining me for dinner?"
She lies down at the floor and peers through the crack under the door. She can just make out Octavia's base and Jasper's legs before she spots Monty upside down against the opposite wall. He smiles encouragingly.
She glances from him to the giant paws that are shifting uncomfortably.
Monty nods again.
"Fine. I will join you." A hanger flies across the room and hits Clarke in the head as she stands. Raven hisses something about manners, so Clarke adds, "Thanks for the invitation."
There's more shuffling and a "shit now we remind this brat of his table manners" "shut up that brat is my brother" "get a new one" and then Clarke is alone with a totally unrepentant wardrobe who is now trying to convince the blonde to wear something other than the dress she's been wearing for almost a week.
It's the most awkward meal Clarke has ever sat through, and she's sat through plenty of meals after a particularly interesting invention of her father's.
The Beast, as she's calling him because he hasn't given his name and 'my lord' is too formal for your jailer, has a lot of difficulty eating with proper manners and his claws. Clarke, who never attended state dinners anyway, slams back her wine like how her mom drinks her mead when Jake is in engineer mode-
-and she promptly spits it back out, totally unused to the bitter taste.
The Beast laughs, not unkindly, and before long, Clarke finds herself giggling.
She has water or mead set out for her every dinner after that.
"Why did you imprison my dad?"
"He took a rose from my gardens."
"They were my mother's."
He could kick her ass six ways to Sunday, but she still stands toe to toe with him and demands a tour of the castle.
He begs her to go with Jasper and Monty, but they're busy trying to catch Finn, the curiously flirty feather-duster, in an attempt to pluck him and see if they can make either drugs or wings out of him.
They'll get bored soon, and Clarke is not getting roped into parenting the pair.
The Beast grudgingly gives her a half-hearted tour - with severe warnings to stay out of the entire West Wing as that is His - that includes the kitchens, so Clarke can grab a snack.
She passes Murphy, left on a hook on the wall, probably by the tricksters.
"How's it going, Murphy?"
"Ah, you know. Just hanging."
"I LITERALLY TELL YOU TO NOT DO JUST ONE THING!"
"I didn't break anything!"
Clarke is practically crying, curled in a corner near the door but afraid to move, to attract his attention as The Beast hovers around the rose in the center of the room, the only whole thing in the shattered, ripped, destroyed room.
She shouldn't have come in here, should've ignored her curiosity.
She wonders briefly which desire to poke things, Abby's or Jake's, took her down this hall, when his eyes leave her to focus on the rose.
Clarke's on her feet and out the door, running, running, running out the doors into the snow.
Back against a tree, lost, wolves arrayed before her, Clarke hates herself with her last thoughts.
Though, they turn out to not be her last thoughts, because The Beast comes crashing through the brush to snarl at the wolves. And though he is much bigger with much more wicked claws, they are more numerous and so believe they have the advantage.
Clarke watches him destroy a pack of wolves before he turns to her.
Chest heaving with exhaustion, he points to the east, roundabouts, the opposite way from which he came.
He points her back to Arcaedea as his strength fails.
His eyes blink open as she's in the middle of stitching him up, but she has a knee in his chest and honestly he's a little surprised to find himself on the floor of his study, not the woods, so he doesn't move even with the pain as she makes neat and even stitches on his arms and chest, stopping every moment or so to clean the needle or wounds, or string new thread, or shove some whiskey down his throat.
Honestly, by the time the room has warmed up enough through the roaring fire and his crazy metabolism, he's too out of it to appreciate the scandalous amount of skin she's showing.
When he wakes up later with a killer hangover and pain across his body, he remembers all too well.
"You didn't have to."
"It would be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath to walk away from someone injured."
"Which part? 'Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm'? ' I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing'? There's nothing about always having to help."
"Why do you have that memorized?"
"I've been in house arrest for fifteen years. I've got a big library and time on my hands."
"Why would you not mention the library on the tour?"
"Because as Octavia says, I'm a dumb fluffy jerk idiot."
"It's 'idiot jerk,' and she's right."
As winter turns to spring, and "thanks yous" are acted out and accepted, the days fall into a pattern.
Wake up, have breakfast, keep the beast from noticing his sister flirting with the oven, read a little, lunch, read and chat, dinner, argue over intellectual history, nightcap, sleep.
Wake up and do it all over.
As the last of the snow is melting, the beast opens previously locked door.
"I've only got the one feather duster, and there was a lot of dust," he says, trying to explain why he's kept a painting gallery and studio locked up.
"Use all the paint you want."
Clarke paints for two straight days - her parents, Wells, Arcaedea, everything happy she left behind.
Then she paints all the joy she's found in the castle, tucked away in it's hidden nooks and crannies.
A rose loses a petal, but no one notices because the lord of the castle falls asleep in his study or the library, and Clarke just tucks blankets and pillows around him when she retreats to bed herself.
"Do you want to go home?"
"I guess I miss it."
"That doesn't really answer my question."
"I'll have to come back anyway, so there's no point in them getting all used to me again only for me to leave."
"I never said you would have to come back."
Clarke shoots a glance at him. "You told my father it was a life sentence. Don't commute it because you suddenly have a stroke of guilt. It's not honorable or just, both characteristics of a good lord." She slams her book shut and walks away, wondering where the hell that came from.
Painting gets added to the daily routine.
At first she keeps them a secret, but when she shows him her first landscape he fawns over it and then declares he's going to start a gallery of her work.
Slowly, she stops painting and drawing alone.
Clarke is sprawled in a chair, doodling in the margins of a book, while the Beast reads at his desk, still managing his lands even under the curse.
Normally, she wouldn't draw in books, but he maintains that he likes it, likes it when he can come across her scribbles, because it means two things: that she beat him to a book, and that it's good or boring enough to inspire her hand.
Clarke still doesn't know what the deal is with the magic glowing rose, but she refuses to think much about it, because it's clearly a sore spot. She does hope one day he'll come around and tell her, as he has slowly revealed more and more about his life. But Clarke has come to accept what the servants have accepted, that their lord is going to keep the secret of the spell.
Part of her thinks it's because it can't be broken, that he's staring down an eternity as a wolf-bear-lion with his friends and sister trapped as inanimate objects, but he refuses to take away their hope that one day all will be well.
Her hand stills and she looks up at him.
He's crouched over his desk, forcing a pen to work according to his will as he writes. He's considering a temporary tax reduction, as the past two years have been years of plenty, so he wants his people to have plenty, too.
Clarke glances back down at her book, to see she's sketched a portrait of him, terrifying at first glance but there's humanity beneath the horns.
She smiles then, and wiggles herself a little a little deeper into the chair to keep reading. There's a part of her that will always miss her family, but isn't this the dream of every soul? To be able to spend every day just basking in the presence of the one you love-
Clarke freezes at that thought. She examines it from several angles, and, finding no untruths, tucks it away deep in her mind. She's not ready to process that thought, and its implications, and definitely not ready to second-guess her sanity as she searches for Stockholm Syndrome.
That's when the Beast suddenly jumps to his feel with a yelp.
He's scratching at his arms as glitter starts raining around him and then suddenly he's in the air, Clarke is pressed into the chair like it can protect her, and there's light, everywhere.
A warm wind rushes through the whole castle, disrupting the papers he was working on.
Clarke thinks, damn, getting those back in order will be a pain, and then the ball of light that is the Beast explodes and Clarke recoils into the chair, eyes shut tight.
When a hush has settled back on the study, a familiar growl, now a little more human, pleads, "Clarke."
Slowly, she pries open her eyes to see a young man, maybe a few years older than her, on his knees by the desk. He's falling out of the Beast's clothes, and has the cloak clutched in his hands. His human hands.
His brown eyes bore into hers with a mixture of disbelief and awe. "Clarke," he says again, this time his voice strangled with emotion. "You love me?"
The door to the study bursts open, and there's a whole host of people trying to shove their way through the door - and Clarke just knows she knows their names but now they have faces she never imagined.
Clarke turns back to meet the man's gaze.