Happily Ever After.
Many people have gone in search of what would lead them to a happy ending, a forever of bliss, a lifetime free of struggle or hardship. Few have not dreamed of such a thing for themselves, imagining on and on the shape that future might take. Love, riches, power. But often discounted is the hardship or struggle in reaching such an end. Or even the hardships that would lead those to dream of such a future for themselves, granted magically.
Magic comes at a price. As does happiness.
More often that not, happiness of one comes at the cost of another. Unhappy stepsisters. The death of a monarch. Unrequited love. For every person that manages to attain a happily ever after, there are many left in their wake whose lives are utterly ruined.
The apple dropped to the floor with a hollow sound. The polished red skin bitten away in a single spot to reveal crisp juicy flesh beneath. With a single bite of forbidden fruit, Matthew had died.
Gilbert watched from the doorway with barely contained disgust. He had done it again. Watched as his companion gave himself up so easily for a stranger. A pair of strangers this time. Selfish whelps hadn't even had the courtesy to look back once they'd escaped and the magic on this place had dissolved. The malignant spirit that had been trapped was free as well.
A happy end for almost all. Again. Hooray.
But disgusted as he was with the boy whose corpse lie on the floor, Gilbert was more disgusted with the fact that he needed him. Needed him and his stupid miracle magic.
Long claws flexing, he picked up the fruit that had been so poisonous to the other. His keen sense of smell could pick nothing up of toxins, nothing other than the fresh scent of fruit and the lingering of musty gingerbread that would likely permeate the house for years to come. There was nothing here to tell him that the apple was dangerous. And why should there be? The magic in it was reserved for the stupid boy dead on the floor. And as soon as Gilbert had finished his end of the bargain, it would be a regular apple all over again. Same as the three times this had happened before.
He took a bite, only recently accustomed to the fit of the teeth in his jaw. Not a twitch from Matthew, but some of the pallor left his face. Another bite and there was a second heartbeat in the room. Slowly signs of life began to come back together. Breath. Movement. Gilbert noted with a frown that it was taking longer each time. It had only taken one bite with the old man and his petrified son. Not much more for the kid with the beans. The girl with the odd glass shoes had taken almost a quarter. This time he'd eaten about half before the blonde stirred.
Unsettling. At this rate, Gilbert thought, his chances of getting his wish were dwindling. He was going to have a few things to say the next time the other boy wanted to go and be a goody two shoes and stick his nose into other people's problems. All those other people were going to have to wait in line. He'd done more work than all of them combined to try and get at one of the miracles that Matthew could dish out. And even still he was no closer than he'd been back at the beginning. Damn frustrating is what that was.
The apple was little more than a core by the time the blonde groaned himself awake. Gilbert hadn't needed to eat it all, but waiting for the dead to come back to life lost luster after the first few times you'd seen it.
"Hey." It was time to get up and get moving. They were wasting time. They had been doing nothing but wasting time since they started on this stupid fruitless journey and Gilbert was no closer to his goal than when he had first agreed to go along with the slight boy with too-big violet eyes.
The blonde in the floor blinked the sleep from his eyes, looking all the world as if he'd just woken from a nap instead of having just died and come back. Even yawned and combed a hand through a halo of messy adolescent curls. Gilbert didn't see how a person could be anywhere near normal with something like that happening over and over. He himself didn't think the kid was right in the head at all, really. But Matthew, who had died at least three times that he had witnessed and probably a handful more before that, was seen as the normal one of them, and he was the freak. It was just the way magic worked. Gilbert hated magic.
"Here's your stupid apple," he crouched low, waving the gnawed-on core in Matthew's face. His long tail brushed the ground behind him. "You were out for so long that I got bored and ate the whole fucking thing." He'd sat and chewed up the whole thing even though he hated fruit. He was supposed to be a carnivore. Carnivores did not chew up life-giving apples for weird kids with a penchant for dying and spewing miracles at strangers.
To his utter infuriation, the kid had the nerve to smile at him as he sat up, dusting his breeches and straightening his cloak as if it were an every day occurrence to rescue fat children from witches and transform candy back into houses by dying in the floor. It was actually becoming more annoying with each time. That innocent smile, like he hadn't caused tons of trouble and deviated from their original destination and prolonged Gilbert's time under the curse just that bit longer while giving away his magic to a couple of annoying kids who had done nothing to deserve the help. That smile was really starting to get to him.
Gilbert chucked the core into the shadows to rot. Damn kid.
He wished, not for the first time, that he did not need him or his stupid miracles.
Matthew took a deep breath as they made their way back to the road. He knew these detours were starting to wear on his traveling companion, but found that he couldn't help himself. The terms of the curse did not require him to help every person that asked, but he found it was impossible to refuse when he found people in dire circumstances. Their stories or cries for help tugged at his heart and he found that he did not mind paying the price to give them a bit of happiness. As long as Gilbert held his end of the bargain, everything would work out.
Temporary death in return for giving others a release from their suffering seemed a small price to pay. So long as he was revived every time.
He snuck a look at boy who kept him breathing on their journey. He was taller and older by a little and had a scar on one cheek that he wouldn't talk about. His eyes were tired, and they sometimes made him look older than he really was. Matthew hadn't been able to work out exactly how old the other was just yet, but he had a few guesses that were pretty close to the mark based on actions and maturity. He was also under a curse, though utterly different from Matthew's own. Gilbert was a transformed prince. When he had first demanded that Matthew use his power (how the other knew of it, he could only guess), he'd asked him to first explain in detail about the curse. It didn't matter either way for him to make the magic work, but he was curious about the stories behind each person he helped. And Gilbert's case interested him a great deal.
Gilbert was apparently the first born heir to the throne in his father's kingdom. An old crone had come begging to the castle one night and Gilbert had turned her away himself. The crone turned out to be a powerful sorceress, and at the indignity shown to her by the prince, turned her magic against him as repayment. A beastly form to match the beast within, Gilbert had quoted with sarcastic disdain and a hint of regret. The sorceress bestowed him with half of the marking appendages of a wolf. He fled the kingdom, partly for fear that he would be locked up due to his animalistic features. The other part of him sook revenge or a cure, whichever came first or both if he could manage. He had been relieved to find that the senses he needed for survival had come with the change to his appearance. His basic senses had been heightened and his claws and teeth were sharp and strong. But for the physical power he had gained, he had lost so much more in terms of ruling power. And that was where Matthew came in.
Matthew's curse was not something that was easily found out. It had taken a great deal of trouble for Gilbert to track him down. People who could perform miracles tended to attract their own fame, but with the conditions that came with Matthew's power, it seemed that those he helped preferred to stay tight lipped. It made a happy story remarkably less so when it is revealed that the cost was the life of a young boy. But keeping it a secret was something that suited the boy just fine, and if he could help it (with Gilbert around it was no problem to do so), he rarely revealed the conditions of his miracles. Dead and back and nobody any the wiser. Very few who even realized what they owed to the young man who listened to their sad stories or their hopes and dreams. If they were able to make the connection, it was to a corpse. Matthew did not want fame or anything like it. There was very little he wanted for himself, but that was the thing he was journeying for. His own version of a happily ever after.
And then he had been accosted by the transformed prince, who had been told that he could help him, but not the circumstances of how he could help. Gilbert had known nothing of the rules of the curse, and seemed shocked at the price of a wish. Matthew struck a deal with him, once he'd heard out his story. The protection of his strength and claws to the end of his journey in exchange for his wish. Of course, he had to reverse the enchantments along the way as well. The cursed prince agreed hesitantly, and they had been traveling together since.
Gilbert himself was not such bad company, Matthew reflected, if one got to know him. He couldn't say he really knew the other very well as of yet, but he was working on it. Slowly but surely. He wondered about the other's unusual appearance, at how much of it was curse and how much was by birth. Pale skin and silvery hair (or was it fur?), red eyes that could pierce his soul. There was also the matter of the scar on his face. He often caught himself imagining what the other boy must have looked like before. If in fact he was actually blonde or brunette or what the serious set of eyes would look like in shades of blue or green or brown. He couldn't ask. Not without putting himself in danger. But he was curious and often tried to tease the secret out of his face when he thought Gilbert wouldn't notice. And on occasion that he was caught, he would feign innocence and ask about something just beyond the other's shoulder. Even more interesting would be if the sorceress hadn't had much imagination, Matthew thought, and left the prince essentially as he was.
Personality-wise, the prince was either cold or hot. He ran in extremes at all times. His anger was blistering and his indifference was freezing. If he did not want to explain himself, it was safe to say that he would not do so. But Matthew was learning how to read his moods. Indifference was often undertoned by loneliness, and the focus of his anger was not always what it seemed. He was an extremely fascinating person.
Unfortunately, not everyone was so understanding. It was difficult for the two to find proper lodging or provisions because of either Gilbert's appearance or temperament, and so they were often forced to make camp and find their own food. Tonight looked like it would be a similar sort of evening for the two young travelers.