At the very top is Aurora, asleep in a simple bed, hands clasp over her stomach. She looks peaceful.
She looks like she’ll wake up at any moment.
“Look after her,” the fairies say, “We will search for someone who can give her true love’s kiss.”
They leave, then, quick and elusive as ever. Such is the nature of fairies; efficient, without sparing a moment to feel and only focused on doing. They are wise, though their ways are nonsense to mortals. To err is to be human, but they are fae. They will bring the hero who will save Aurora. They will not allow for anything else.
It is only then that you realize that all these years, the fairies did care for you. You were just too human to see it.
For the first few days, you sit besides Aurora, holding her hand as you tell her stories and reassure her that all will be fine.
A few days is all you get with her before the first heroes and princes start showing up. The hope you had quickly turns into despair and rage as these men try to force themselves onto you, onto Aurora, and care only for themselves. Your hands shake as you push them away, use your body as a shield, and force them out of the tower.
You decide enough is enough, and wipe away the blood on your hands.
You think of your mother, powerful and cruel. You think of Aurora, how she called you “The Girl With Magic In Her Eyes”, and you reach deep down inside yourself in search of that magic Aurora always believed you had.
You did your best not to become a monster. But your magic shakes the earth and calls forth a wall of black brambles, filled with thorns. The sky is dark under heavy storm clouds and the air itself is filled with a sense of danger.
When you see your reflection, your eyes are green and glowing, with slit pupils. Small black scales cover your cheekbones, your arms, your neck. At the top of your head, you can see two bumps - horns - beginning to emerge. More monster than human, your reflection tells you.
You wonder if you really are your mother’s daughter.
The days are quieter now. Less knights and princes and heroes pass through the wall of brambles and those that do run at the sight of a large black dragon.
(It’s an illusion, but they never find out. That would, of course, require them to fight it, and none have the courage.)
And then a prince slips through your guard and climbs the tower.
When he comes in, after politely knocking on the door - something no one else has done - he hesitantly peers in. When he sees you, he smiles and enters the room. Immediately, you place yourself in front of Aurora, tense and ready for a fight.
The prince doesn’t fight. He doesn’t draw his sword or demand to have the princess.
No, he holds he hand out and says, “Hello, I’m Prince Philip. It’s nice to meet you.”
You have no name to give you so he settles for calling you “Miss”. He startles at the sight of Aurora, sleeping, when you move away. When he asks if she’s alright, you stare long enough that he shifts and can’t meet your eyes.
“If you didn’t know about Aurora, why are you here?” you ask.
“Ah, well, you see, I heard that this tower was protected by a dragon. I left before I could hear what it was protecting and made my way here as fast as I could. But I didn’t see it?”
Prince Philip is strange and acts like none of the others who have climbed the tower.
“Did you come here to slay the dragon?”
“No!” he seems offended by the mere idea of slaying the dragon. “I came here to befriend it.”
He’s kind enough that you feel bad about the illusion. So you assure him that the dragon is just out at the moment, then use your magic to call upon a few crows and discretely ask them to find a friendly dragon for Prince Philip.
In the meantime, he’s content to wait with you and push selfish men down the stairs.
All the while, Aurora sleeps.
“If true love’s kiss will wake her up,” Prince Philip says one day, “Why don’t you kiss her?”
You flush and push him away. “I can’t!”
“Why not? You’ve been here from the beginning, protecting her. You know her better than anyone else. Do you not love her?”
“I’m a monster. Monsters don’t love. And true love doesn’t exist; that’s why the curse is unbreakable.”
He frowns and straightens up, drawing on his royal heritage like a cloak. He sits tall and strong, and you can see every inch of prince in him. “What?” his voice is dangerously low. “If anyone’s a monster, it’s the person who laid this curse, not you.”
“My mother laid this curse!”
“You are not your mother. You do not carry her sins. You are not a monster.” Abruptly, he pulls away, expression softening. “You protect Aurora even at the cost of your own safety, you conjure up new flowers for her every day, you keep her company and have more heart than some kings I have met. If anyone can wake her, it’s you. Even if you don’t believe in true love. It can’t hurt to at least try, right?”
It can. If Aurora doesn’t wake up when you kiss her, if this proves that you are heartless and can’t love, it would hurt more than any loneliness ever did. It would hurt more than cold iron.
But you would do anything for Aurora.
Prince Philip leaves when you tell him you’ll try. You hope the dragon your crows found will be here soon for him.
You take a moment to prepare yourself, then you sit besides Aurora, lean down, and kiss her.
It feels like coming home.
You pull away. For a moment, all is still. You feel your heart sink and shatter, and then–
Aurora opens her eyes.
Slowly, and then she sees you and she smiles, soft and slow. You swallow, blinking against the tears building in your eyes, and she lifts a hand to cradle your jaw.
“Angel,” she murmurs, “I knew you would save me.”
And then you’re both crying and laughing and nothing has ever felt so good.
Prince Philip helps you both down the tower. He’s happy to finally be able to talk to Aurora, and ecstatic at the sight of a dragon just beyond the brambles. It takes a while for you to bring down the brambles with how Aurora steals your attention with kisses everytime the magic swirled around you.
Every time, you flush and glance at Prince Philip, who graces you with an impish grin that makes you want to push him.
He gives you his horse to the two of you can travel through the forest faster, and waves you goodbye as he chats with the dragon, an old, friendly creature that has lived long enough to see kingdoms rise and fall.
“I should let my father know I’m okay,” Aurora says, guiding the horse between the trees.
You hold onto her waist, reveling in her warmth. “How far is the castle?”
She glances back at you with a sly grin. “Far enough away that we won’t make it today.” She gently kicks her heels and the horse speeds up. “Let’s go home.”
Home: her cottage in the woods, your little hovel and its flower fields.
Home: wherever you and Aurora are, together.
You smile and press a kiss to her neck. “Let’s go.”
After you both stumble into the cottage, pressing kisses to each other’s skin, Aurora takes a moment to look at you.
“What?” you ask, ducking your head in embarrassment.
She brushes a finger along the scales on your cheekbone and you feel your blood run cold.
“You’ve changed,” she says, and tilts your head up to meet your gaze. “I like it.”
“I look like a monster.”
“You look like an angel. My angel.”
Aurora won’t listen to your denials, and kisses you until you forget what you look like. She kisses you until you forget everything but her, and lose yourselves into the night.
In this world, where Aurora is awake and loves you so fiercely it aches, you are not human, but you are loved.
What lies outside this forest can’t take it away. The two of you have drifted, lost and abandoned, until you came together despite the odds. You love her enough to break your mother’s unbreakable curse. Aurora loves you enough to threaten giving up her title as Princess unless she can have you by her side, always.
The journey to this hurt more that you can endure, but you think, as you dance with her in the cottage’s little kitchen, that you wouldn’t have this any other way.