The roses trembled.

“Beauty,” said Beast, and blinked large cow-like eyes.

She glanced at them too, lips pursed. “Yes. I suppose so.”

The petals were starting to crisp, wilting, colour deadened. Only against their framework of anaemic earth did they seem to glow, helped along by setting-sunlight.

“You,” said Beast.

“Me?”

“You.”

And he meant it. She was the subject of those heavy blinks. Swallowing, she met his eyes, and they sucked her. Corners oozing gunk, pitch black centres, ringed in blood, the scurrying veins excavating what little tarnished white was left behind – and still they sucked her.

“I’m not,” she managed.

He raised one heavy paw, pushed aside her hair. “Beauty.” A claw brushed her left earlobe, nicking it just the smallest bit, a sparking pain that made her wince and shudder all in one, breath escaping in a girlish gasp.

His head swung down, bowing over her little face.

A moment thudded through both their hearts. Then the gap was closed.

“Stop,” she said, but leaned upwards nonetheless, tipped her mouth, closed her eyes, an expectation unfelt for years surging unbidden through her mind. Such things were foreign to her now.

The broken, bristled jaw nuzzled dog-like. The saliva, warm, wet, moistened her own dry lips. The smell was ancient, only partly rotting. The tongue probed. The teeth kept to themselves. A relief.

Later, and the roses were all crushed to pieces.

She lay, easily, rising up and down upon his colossal sleeping bulk. The fur twisted in her hands; the excess nipples indenting against her skin; the muddy odour filling her nose, her mouth.

Stars pricked into being. Watching, she cleared her mind, then thought.

Beauty, he had said.

“Yes, I am.” The words were real, though the night sky nabbed them. They were true, for he had meant it.

Gingerly, she shifted, wincing at her dodgy hip. His belly was softer than his chest, like a spongy bag of straw. Careful not to wake him, she wormed her way to rest there.

Beauty, he had said.

“Yes.” Though none had ever thought so, and, without mercy, the years had stripped her.

She pushed up a wizened arm, squinting at sagging skin, the blotches and stubborn hairs that old age cultivates so well. In starlight they were no different, though harder in the dark to see.

Her eyelids came together, and her sleepy mind slacked. Beneath her, his stomach rumbled, a deep reverberation. Like purring it continued, comforting and loving.

And the night embraced them both – an old beauty and her beast.