Chapter Nine: Heal Over
After a thorough bath and a change of dress, Calcifex was looking much more presentable. Two royal sentinels had led him from the wash rooms to the great hall, and they were presently flanking both his sides while he sat at his seat at the dining table. Waiting for him in the immense room had been Sidereus, who honestly no longer cared if he was seen; all he wanted was to be near his companion. The guards had been quite alarmed to see the spirit floating around, but several minutes of explanation and mildly threatening looks scared them into submission, and all they did was cast nervous glances at Sid every couple of seconds. None of them said much. Half an hour later, the king arrived alone.
"Guards, please leave us."
The men exchanged worried looks. "But, Sire," one of them said, "Don't you think it might be best if-"
"I'll be fine. Now, go," Cerasus ordered, and the guards scurried off, unwilling to upset their new monarch. Once the coattails of their uniforms had disappeared around the corner, the boy set his sights on Calcifex, who had gotten to his feet. They stared at one another for a long while. It was hard to decide where to begin.
Sidereus was uncomfortable. "I'll leave you guys alone," he offered, and flew off into the entrance hall to hide in the ceiling.
'We can't just let this go on forever,' the king thought to himself, sighing. He made a decision.
"We have to talk, Calcifex."
The wizard's lips quirked the smallest amount. "You're right, Your Majesty."
The use of his formal title stung. "Must you call me that?"
"It's proper, is it not?"
"Don't let everything start off like this, Calcifex… Not when we were… Just this morning…"
Cal let out a tired breath of air. "All right. But I don't know what you want me to say, Cerasus. I can stand here and apologize all day, or admit to anything you want me to, but it won't really make a difference, will it? All I'm doing is proving my guilt." His dark brows furrowed and he glared at the marble floor. "You should have let me hang. I can't hurt you when I'm dead." The wizard was confused and upset. He still hated himself, and now he was wondering why the boy had granted him freedom. Was it some form of payback? Cerasus, the prince, would never have done such a thing. But the king… His Majesty… Was not the individual that Calcifex knew. Maybe that was his fault; people tended to become hard-hearted when they are subjected to pain. Cal knew that firsthand.
Cerasus felt helpless. Since being crowned, some sort of strange strength had been coursing through him, and he no longer felt weak or young. He suspected it was a side effect of suddenly inheriting an entire kingdom. And yet… Whenever he was with Calcifex, he never failed to feel like a child. The wizard was his steady mountain to lean on when he couldn't find his own resilience. But now he needed Cal more than ever, and couldn't reach him. What does one do when their only support is gone?
Cerasus couldn't think of a better option, so he just started to cry. He thought he had used up every last tear that morning, but it seemed he was sorely mistaken. Hot trails of the things washed down his face. "Cali…" he whispered, broken. "I don't want you d-dead…"
The scene stabbed at the wizard, razor-sharp, making his heart beat painfully hard. This was the Cera he knew. His little lamb, timid and scared and oh, so sweet. But he couldn't hold him; he had to resist the urge to embrace him, because he didn't deserve that comfort yet.
"What do you want me to do, love?" Calcifex said, voice soft.
Cerasus sniffed, tried to hold on to some scrap of resolve. "I want… I want honesty. I want you to tell me everything, and…" His voice cracked and he stuttered a little. "I want you to stay."
It would be difficult, the wizard knew, to share every detail of his story with the boy he loved. There were things he had done that now brought shame to him whenever they crossed his mind. He realized that telling Cerasus everything meant that the king would probably be unhappy with some of the tales, but if it would make their situation better, in the long run… Cal would do anything.
"All right," he acquiesced. "I'll be honest about everything. But… What about your mother?"
Cerasus' blue eyes hardened a little. "I don't care what she says. I'm in charge now."
Calcifex nodded. "Okay. And what about your queen? You'll need one of those, someday…"
This was true, but at the moment Cerasus didn't give a damn. "We'll come to that when it's time for it," he replied, sounding stubborn. It made the wizard smile a little, even though there was still much to be resolved. Finally, he decided it was acceptable for him to touch the boy. He took a few steps forward and wrapped him in a hug.
"I'm sorry," Cal whispered into the king's ear, holding him like he would never let go.
"I know," Cerasus answered, letting himself be lost in the warmth of the embrace. Everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours seemed ages past, as well as all the feelings that had come with it. He was no longer afraid. "I love you," he declared bravely to the wizard.
Calcifex couldn't stop himself; he cried. His tears were neither heavy nor sloppy. They were calm and relieving, the release of a burden too long carried. Cerasus could feel them on his cheeks.
"I love you, too," Cal admitted, and he marveled at how perfect the words felt on his tongue. They tasted so good that he wanted to say them again and again. He promised himself that he would, every day that he got to spend in Cerasus' presence.
In the doorway of the hall, watching happily as the scene unfolded, Sidereus floated. Things weren't quite over yet, but that was okay. They had time, now, to make things right. And they would. Even if things got hard sometimes, they would be able to overcome them. The light spirit glanced away from the couple, which was now sharing a slow, comforting kiss. He directed his gaze at the far wall, where he saw the mural of the story between the beast and its dead princess. Above the last picture of the beast, a group of stars had been painted that seemed to point skyward. He looked up. On the ceiling, the beast and his true love were together, both alive and well, surrounded by clouds and sunshine.
Sidereus let loose a laugh born entirely from glee.
'They got it,' he mused, still chuckling. 'Their happy ending.'
Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, or was kind enough to do both.
America's Dream: Since you liked the last chapter so much, I certainly hope the finale didn't disappoint. If it did, I apologize, but I won't be changing it, either. My most sincere gratitude to you for reading the whole story and never being afraid of being honest. I hope to see you around the sequel, as well.
Disclaimer: This story consists purely of fiction and is a product of the author's imagination. Any person/place/thing/event contained within that has any similarities to something or someone in real life is completely coincidental.
Constructive criticism always welcome.
7:45 pm, February 11, 2007.