All Things Rare

by Puck

Spoilers: A little bit of And It's Surely to Their Credit, other then that only basic stuff.
Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing.
Note: This is me playing around with style. The tenses go in and out, but I've read it a couple times and it seems to flow pretty well. Apologies to anyone who finds it jarring or whatnot. I just like concept pieces. The title's from Shakespeare's sonnet XXI.
Dedication: This one is for Beth, who wanted a happy ending. It was a pleasure to deliver.

We start, as most fairy tales do, with once upon a time there was a fair maiden. Well, she hadn't been a maiden in the traditional sense for quite some time, but in the world she lived in she was, in comparison, quite maidenly.

This particular maiden worked for the king in his palace. She had been stolen from another king, however and had been banished to a small cave at the bottom of the king's property, near the dungeon. Being a resourceful maiden she had done her best to beautify her cave and worked hard as she could in order to gain the kingdom's trust.

In general the maiden was happy, except, like all maidens in these stories, she was being oppressed. Usually this is where we introduce you to the wicked step mother but our maiden's parents had starred in their own fairy tale many a year ago and were still living happily ever after.

No, her oppression came from a man she had met in the art section of the bookstore six weeks ago. He was an imposing figure, tall and broad with a loud voice and strong opinions. He was a litigator, so perhaps the appropriate analogy, for our purposes, would be dragon. The maiden had gotten herself in a relationship with a dragon and now she was stuck.

You see, the dragon was not the maiden's first choice. There was a prince who lived in the palace she had loved ever since she'd first met him. The problem was he seemed oblivious to her feelings. To be sure, he was always kind to her, save when they bickered. In fact, he had once saved her from two cruel trolls who had lived in the palace. It had been a truly chivalrous deed but the maiden knew it didn't mean as much as she might hope. He was a prince, after all, it was his job to be chivalrous.

So, with her true love too dense to notice they were perfect for each other the maiden was forced to find love elsewhere. A dragon is better then a magic wand, if you know what we mean.

She had been with the dragon over a fortnight before she noticed the problem. He had been very charming when first they met, a dragon in prince's clothing, one might say. We will not say this, as we find it rather trite, but one could, if one chose. As we were saying, he was so charming that the maiden, while usually a very cautious maiden, had given him her number upon first meeting. They'd gone to town a handful of time and, while the maiden had noticed he seemed to like things done a certain way, it hadn't really both ered her. When he'd requested she wear a certain outfit one night, she'd been confused, but complied. When he'd beamed and told her she was beautiful she'd forgotten the confusion and had just been happy. It had been a while since anyone had complimented her.

So it started out small, and she scarcely noticed. But then it got worse. He began to order for her at restaurants and never enough food. When she would complain or try to order more he would glower and tell her an appetite of her size in a woman was unattractive. She'd closed her mouth and eaten what he'd ordered without further complaint. The dragon, having been a dragon for a long time, knew victory when he saw it. He stopped being charming and started showing his true colors. He lashed at her with his hot breath and fire and raked at her with his claws.

We pause here to explain something about our heroine. Many years ago she'd been in love with a handsome knight who had promised her the moon and stars. She'd already picked out the castle and named the children when her knight had run off with a tavern wench, heading for a kingdom by the sea. This experience had left the maiden shaken and uncertain of her own self worth. She was a perfect victim for the dragon, because her fortress walls had already been damaged by her knight in rather tarnished armor. When he told her she was looking fat, she believed it. When he said she might look better if she did something with her hair, she did her best to style it. All his criticisms and insults hit their mark and made it harder for her to fight him.

All of this could have gone on forever had the dragon not made a mistake. One day the maiden had to go to the great hall to work with her prince and his other prince friends. She was still there at the time she was supposed to meet the dragon to go out to dinner. He came and found her in the great hall and began to argue and berate, asking why she was late and why didn't she keep track of the time and she *knows* how he hates to be kept waiting. She speaks softly, voice weak, trying to explain, to calm him down, even to just get him out so she wouldn't have the eyes of the kingdom on her.

This makes him all the angrier, because she's not apologizing. Dragons aren't interested in reasons and excuses. They want obedience. And when they don't get it they want repentance. And if they don't get that, they want vengeance. He grabs her wrist and drags her out of the hall, ignoring her protests and the furious glare of a prince.

Once back in her cave the dragon releases her roughly, making her stumble and fall. He calls her clumsy and hauls her up, causing her to cry out in pain. This, apparently, it the maiden's breaking point. She has let him batter her spirit to a mangled mess, but now he's hurt her body and she won't take that. She stomps her foot onto his, making him release her. She is not the helpless maiden she has appeared. The dragon roars and this disobedience and she roars back because in this tale the damsel isn't necessarily in distress. She yells at him, the way she should have all along. When he doesn't seem to be fleeing the way she wants him to she picks a book off her desk and throws it at him.

Dragons can't handle a victim that fights back. He tells her to go to hell and storms out of her life, to find another maiden to dine on.

Our maiden, while flush with victory, is alone again, and in pain. She falls to the floor and begins to cry, wondering where her fairy godmother is and why she keeps sending her these frogs. It doesn't seem fair, really, she's never been anything but a good girl.

But perhaps that's her problem, it's the maidens who get lost in the woods or touch the spindle that get the prince. Perhaps the find the happily ever after you have to go out and look for it.

There's a knock at the entrance of her cave and she looks up to see her prince standing there, holding a bag of ice and looking worried. She manages a smile, because if you're a maiden, you don't let the prince see you cry. He comes over and sinks to the ground next to her and holds the ice against her bruised arm. She knows he has questions he wants to ask. The problem is she doesn't have any answers. There are no good answers.

She looks up at him, wondering if he could ever understand a loneliness that makes you ache and a need that can overpower everything, even self respect. She sees pity in his eyes, which hurts and worry, which doesn't. There's anger there, too, and she waits for him to offer to destroy the dragon for her, as a good prince should. She hopes he doesn't. She doesn't need anymore obligatory chivalry. She's just proven she can save herself.

He doesn't ask any questions, though. And he doesn't make any offers. He simply sits there with her, holding ice to her wound. She starts to cry again, because this is chivalry, as far as she's concerned, and it comes so naturally to him. His arms come around her and he lets her cry, pulling a handkerchief from some where to dry her eyes. He murmurs things to her, telling her she can do better and he's sorry he didn't realize she was in trouble.

This makes her angry. There was no reason he should notice her relationships. Especially when *she* hadn't realized she was in trouble. He may be a prince but he's not her keeper. She pulls out of his arms and hands him his kerchief back. She gets to her feet and she can see in his eyes he knows he's insulted her, even if he doesn't understand why. He stands, stammering an apology that he doesn't mean and she doesn't want. She tells him she's fine, thank you for the ice, go now. He looks wounded, an expression dangerously close to a pout on his adorable features. He nods finally and walks out, leaving her with her ice and her tears.

Our maiden now becomes a master, or perhaps mistress, of avoidance. She goes almost a week without seeing him. She's afraid of what she'll say or see or do.

This might have gone on indefinitely had a fellow maiden not told her the fate of her dragon. Apparently someone had given his name and location to the king's enforcers, also known as the IRS, and now he was imprisoned. Apparently dragons have trouble adding and subtracting correctly on their royal taxes. The maiden doesn't want to find amusement in another's suffering, but sometimes you just can't resist.

She knows, of course, who is responsible for the dragon's incarceration. She knows also that this is an apology of sorts, though it might be for the wrong thing. An apology is an apology and the maiden is tired of being alone. She's tired of waiting for the prince to make the first move. That's the thing they never tell you in the fairy tales. Sometimes the prince is and idiot and needs to get smacked on the head. He doesn't have a fairy godmother or kindly forest creature telling him what to do. His fellow princes are certainly no help. It's time to go find her happy ending herself, before any more curses come her way.

She makes the journey to the great hall and finds the prince's quarters. She wonders out loud how the enforcers could have gotten wind of the dragon's tax problems. He feigns innocence, as she knew he would, and she smiles at him. Then she takes the leap and asks if he wants to go out sometime. His eyes widen and she's afraid a moment, but then he smiles and nods. They set the time and she makes her way back to her cave.

They go out and she has the time of her life. He has no curses, no demons hiding in his past that she hadn't known about already. He is smart and funny and charming, just as a prince should be. At the end of the night he doesn't press, simply asks for a second date and gives her a kiss that certainly wakes her up. She watches him walk down the pathway to his carriage and smiles, hugging herself. She waves as he rides away and goes inside, dancing on the clouds themselves.

On their second time out she gets another kiss at the door and he begins to walk away without another word. She calls him back, the door to her home wide open. With a not quite maidenly smile she beckons him to her. His eyes widen in an amusing way, then he starts back, an extra spring in his step. The maiden chuckles a little as he walks past her. In many respects, princes are very easy to manipulate. He goes into the living room and she closes the door, trailing behind him.

Now, we've already explained our use of maiden is more figurative then literal, but this does not mean our heroine is a trollop. Her experience has been limited to two knights and a stable hand. A prince standing anxiously in her living room is an entirely new experience. He looks at her as if he expects her to make the first move. She'd thought inviting him in was the first step. Mayhap if she gets him in the bedroom he'll start his seduction. She takes his hand, tugging him back to her inner sanctum.

Fortunately for the continuance of this story he kissed her once they got in the room, pressing her against the wall in a most unchivalrous manner. The prince, she has discovered, is very good at kissing. When his hands begin mapping her body she discovers he's equally as good at wooing.

His hands are surprisingly rough for a prince, perhaps from the work he does on his royal boat. She likes the feel of them on her much softer skin so much she scarcely notices when he disrobes her. His kisses become less and less gentle as he backs her towards the bed and they tumble down on it. They roll over and over again, tangling together.

He kisses every inch of her, not wanting any patch of skin to feel left out. She finds this side of him very sweet and sexy, though when his mouth settles on her, um, maidenhood all thought leaves. She discovers thought isn't necessary when he works his magic on her. Her prince, it appears, is part sorcerer.

His touch drives her to the stars and beyond and she cries out his name just before he claims her as his own. She clings to him, making him her prince as well as he makes her his maiden. Well, really, not so much maiden any more. This time, the magic is shared and they bring each other to the stars.

Afterwards they touch and talk, as lovers often do. They're no longer merely prince and maiden but a set. A prince and princess, or even just them. There are worse things in the kingdom to be.

The next morning the maiden turned princess wakes to something soft tickling her nose. She swats it away and opens her eyes to see the prince, a gallant smile on his face, dangling a rose above her by it's stem. She beams and looks around to see her bed covered in red petals. She stares a moment, then starts to laugh, wrapping her arms around her ever chivalrous prince.

It is a heady thing to suddenly have what you have wanted all your life. She has him and his love. A love that she'd thought only existed in poems and tales so farfetched even *she* didn't believe them. He dotes on her, in the best princely tradition. She has no doubt he'd rescue her from the clutches of any danger she might face. And she is fairly certain he knows she'd sacrifice anything for him. Neither would have settled for anything less.

The road has not been easy for either and it didn't happen the way she'd always thought, but she has her prince, she has her life and it is no lie to say that she lived happily ever after.

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