A Matter of Perception

This entry is part 28 of 41 in the series Shadowhunter AUs

Author's Note: Inspired by this prompt by Pocki: "Real is just a matter of perception", the gorgeous 2014 La Belle et la Bête movie as well as the Singing Bones podcast. This was supposed to be a 300 word drabble but ended up a bit longer than that. 🙂

***

He'd wanted to run, at first. Every cell in his body had screamed at him to get away, flee this enchanted castle, terrifying in its strange, abandoned beauty, with its even more terrifying master. Yet Alec had stayed. It had been his choice, after all, to exchange his freedom for Izzy's.

The knowledge that his sister was safe was all that helped him stand his ground when his jailer ordered him to join him for dinner every night. He couldn't even see him, not properly, but the glimpse he caught reflected in the golden goblet in front of him chilled him to the bone. Who was this... this beast with its golden mane and unsettling eyes, and what did he want from Alec?


The latter question at least was partly answered the next night, after Alec had spent a restless day exploring the castle, when the Beast frankly invited Alec to share his bed. A disbelieving laugh escaped Alec, still shocked from his first clear look at the leonine head and the dangerous-looking claws, so clearly inhuman despite the elegant clothes his host wore. This impression only grew when the Beast exploded into a rage at Alec's involuntary reaction, his roar exposing sharp teeth, although he stopped short of actually touching him, breath hot against Alec's skin, strange blue-and-gold eyes burning into his.


It was those eyes that later haunted Alec's sleep, the pain he'd seen in them deeply, unmistakably human, despite all appearances to the contrary. In spite of himself Alec felt guilty for the callous way he’d dismissed the Beast’s request, as preposterous as it had been. Exploring the castle the next day, Alec kept his eyes open, but there was no sign of his host, only more mysteries when he found a slashed painting of what appeared to be a family.


Realising that there had to be a reason for the spell that lay on the castle, and its master, Alec’s attitude softened noticeably, and when the Beast apologised for his outburst the next night, he couldn't help but offer an apology in return. He followed this by offering him an exchange - not his body, but a dance, for the chance to see his family one more time.


Still, despite his instincts telling him that the Beast didn't mean him any harm, his hands trembled just a little when he stepped into the circle of the Beast's arms. He was used to being the tallest person in the room, and it felt strange to be able to rest his head on someone's shoulder, yet that was exactly what he did when the music started, played by the same ghostly servants that had been seeing to his every need since his arrival. At first it was to avoid the mismatched eyes that kept looking at him as if they could see right to his very soul, but after a while Alec relaxed into the Beast's embrace and let himself be carried 'round and 'round, until it felt as if they were going to take flight.


When the song ended, Alec felt breathless, alive with every part of his body that was pressed against the his dance partner’s broad chest and well-muscled thighs. This time he met those eyes without flinching, saw them widen in surprise and awe, even before he promised that, once he returned from seeing his family, he would fulfill the Beast’s request and share his bed.


For a long second Alec thought the Beast would kiss him, and the frisson of heat that raced through him at the prospect made him shiver in anticipation. There was no fear, despite the dim worry what might be hidden under the expensive silk and satin that lay so smooth under his hands as he trailed them over the broad shoulders. However, instead of closing the distance between them the Beast stepped away, albeit reluctantly, and there was regret in his voice when he sent Alec away immediately, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to let him go otherwise.


The promise to return the next day came surprisingly easy to Alec, considering how much he’d longed to escape only a couple of days ago. Still, it was wonderful to see the joy lighting up Max’s face when he caught sight of Alec through the window, and soon Alec was ensconced at home, being showered in hugs by both his siblings. They were understandably keen to hear about everything that had happened, but Alec found it rather difficult to put his experiences at the Beast’s castle into words.


It got even worse when his parents joined them, both adamantly refusing to listen to Alec’s insistence that he would have to leave them again. Alec was determined, however, especially in light of the strange gleam in his mother’s eyes when Max let slip excitedly what Alec had told them earlier about the riches hidden in the castle. What he didn’t expect was the bone-deep exhaustion that claimed him after dinner, and it wasn’t until he woke up almost a day later that he remembered the bitter taste of the tea Maryse had offered him.


Facing Izzy, Alec felt coldly furious but also afraid for what his parents might do to the Beast. He knew all too well how ruthless they could be, especially his mother. His sister tried to convince him that he was better off at home, but she must have seen something in his eyes, because the next instance she’d given him her favourite horse. It was a race horse, and Alec had never galloped this fast, Izzy’s heartfelt goodbye still ringing in his ears.


All his misgivings were confirmed when he reached the castle and saw that his parents had brought half of Idris with them, to rid the world of the monstrous Beast - and claim his riches in the process, no doubt. Alec had always been a good fighter, and desperation gave him an edge as he fought his way up to the tower, following his instincts.


In the end, he was almost too late. Almost, but not quite, because when he dropped to his knees besides the fallen form of the Beast after having dismissed his parents curtly, the mismatched eyes were still open. Words sticking in his throat, Alec realized the Beast’s fur was matted with blood. His eyes filled with tears, and he dug his fingers into the tawny pelt, dimly hearing himself beg for a reprieve, a miracle.


A wordless groan escaped the Beast, a shudder running through him, and those captivating eyes slid shut. With a hoarse scream, Alec threw himself over the massive form on the ground, letting his tears fall freely. Sobbing, he pressed a kiss to half-open lips, wishing he had had the courage to claim them after their enchanted dance.


When they shifted under his touch, he at first thought he was imagining things. The sensation continued, however - not like a kiss, but a change of shape, and Alec’s eyes flew open. Underneath him, in clothes that were much too big for him, lay no longer a Beast but a man, young and beautiful, with golden hair. His eyes were closed, but when they opened a moment later, they were the familiar blue and gold.


Alec stared, awestruck, until the young man began to smile and reached up to cup Alec’s face in hands that were no longer claws. Their touch was gentle, loving, as was the gaze that kept Alec frozen in place, his skin prickling with electricity even before their lips met.


Later, there would be explanations, tales of evil stepbrothers and demon witches and curses cast on a prince who now, no longer trapped in Beast form, reclaimed his name. But of all the strange, wondrous things he learned, what struck Alec as strangest of all for some reason, was the fact that Jace was now shorter than he was. They still fit together perfectly, however, and this time, when Jace asked him to bed, Alec followed willingly.

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