Part 2: Chapter 21
Adam returned to the West Wing quickly, eager to rejoin Belle as soon as he could. After all that had happened last night, he wanted to be by her side, but he also needed a few minutes to collect himself. Once he was safely alone, he sat on the edge of his bed and sighed.
"I'm human," he said aloud to himself, trying to make himself understand that this was real. "My name is Adam, and I'm human." As he said his own name, he couldn't help but recall with a smile that Belle had called him by his name just a few minutes ago. Hearing her say it made him feel more human than his own poor attempts.
Intent on rejoining Belle without further delay, he stood and walked over to the nearest wardrobe, hoping to find something more suitable than the tattered clothes of the Beast. His path led him past the mirror that stood on a dresser and caught sight of his own image. Startled by the flash he saw of the unfamiliar human, he stopped to take a closer look.
His features were relatively similar to his boyhood, specifically the auburn hair and blue eyes, but his face had thinned, his jaw was more pronounced, and his chest and shoulders were considerably more broad. He was a man now, no longer a small, self-centered boy. As he unwillingly brought back the memories of his childhood he had tried to push away for the last ten years, his stomach tightened uncomfortably. He was so selfish, so cruel to everyone; it was no wonder the Enchantress had placed that curse on him. Adam hoped that this man he had become was nothing like the child he was. With Belle by his side, though, he was confident nothing like that could happen.
Wasting no more time, he discovered the green coat he had ruined with porridge as the Beast, clean and perfectly fit to his new size. In fact all of the clothes in the wardrobe seemed to have altered to fit his human body and he shook his head in wonder at the Enchantress' attention to detail. He dressed, discarding his torn clothes in a pile before deciding that a Prince should keep his room tidy. The Beast had not cared about the state of the West Wing, but he was no longer the Beast. Humans did things differently. So he picked up his tattered clothes and put them instead in a convenient basket.
Before leaving, he checked himself in the mirror to make sure he was dressed acceptably. Looking in the mirror was strange to him still; he had not done such a simple act since the previous night when he was preparing for dinner with Belle, rarely wanting the painful undeniable reminder that he was a Beast. Now, he wanted to present himself to Belle as a gentleman; he had tried his best as a Beast, but he hoped that as a man he could do better.
He straightened his jacket one last time and started to head towards the door, but suddenly realized that the floor was cold beneath his feet. He looked down at his still strange feet and realized that a human man needed shoes. Quickly he went back to his wardrobe and pulled on a pair of black boots, squirming his toes against the unfamiliar feel of the leather. He stood and took a few unsteady steps, accommodating the slightly constricting feel into his stride. It took a few turns around the room to be able to step normally again.
All right, he said to himself and went through a mental list of all that humans needed to wear. Considering himself prepared, he strode once again towards the doors to the West Wing and successfully into the hall before he ran into Mrs. Potts, pushing her tea cart towards him. He paused, unused to seeing the human Mrs. Potts. Her hair was whiter than he remembered, but other than that she was still the same, comfortable woman who told him stories as a child.
"Hello, Master," she greeted him as they drew closer together. "I was just coming to have a little chat with you."
"It's about the servants, sire. They're all in a fuss with what's happened today, as you can well imagine. Some of them are thinking about leaving, which I think they have every right to do after being cooped up here for so long. I think it would help a great deal if you would speak with them."
"They want to leave?" he asked, surprised and slightly worried that he might end up alone in his castle.
"Only a few, Master. Many of them had family in other towns and cities and wish to see them again." Adam nodded slowly, trying to imagine how they felt and only succeeding in feeling more guilty in the process.
"All right," he said hesitantly. "But I was just going to go talk to Belle and her father about. . .well everything."
"Oh, that's a splendid idea! I'm sure she must be terribly confused. But I do think you should address the servants today." Adam nodded, but felt his stomach attempt to tie itself in knots at the idea of making a speech to his servants. He hadn't done so in a very long time and was never comfortable with the idea of speaking to a crowd.
"Perhaps before dinner," he suggested when Mrs. Potts did not make a move to leave, clearly expecting something more from him. She was always rather good at silently making him follow through his decisions, particularly after he had been turned into a Beast and had been a bit more willing to take her advice.
"Very well. I'll tell the others," she said with a smile and a nod and turned back down the hall. Adam watched her go for a moment, his heart thudding at the idea of speaking in front of his servants. With a start, he recalled that he promised to explain everything to Belle and her father and he was certain his heart would burst with so much nervous anticipation.
He entered the library as he said he would, but there was no sign of Belle or her father. Grateful for the time to collect himself, he strode over to one of the large windows and sat on the cushioned window seat Belle often frequented. He arranged the pillows nervously as he awaited Belle and Maurice, wondering how he would even begin to tell them all that happened to him. They both deserved the truth, but he was unsure of his ability to tell it.
As he picked up a light blue pillow with gold fringe, he uncovered the book Belle had been reading. He was always amazed that she could have multiple books in progress at one time; one they would read together, and another to read when she was alone. He picked up the leather volume and smiled at the ribbon that marked her page, fraying at the ends from overuse.
"Hello," Belle's sweet voice made him turn towards the doors of the library. Adam smiled, noticing that she had changed into a beautiful lavender gown he hadn't seen before. Maurice was beside her, wearing the same suit of clothes and Adam made a mental note to ask the castle's seamstress to provide him with warmer, better quality garments.
"Hello," he said in return, smiling at Maurice's flabbergasted expression and returned the book to the window seat. "Are you enjoying the tour?"
"I—well yes," Maurice replied, tearing his eyes away from the massive library to look at him. "Thank you for the room, by the way. I think it's bigger than my entire house!"
"Oh, Papa," Belle sighed and Adam got the impression Belle had asked him not to remark on that aspect, though Adam couldn't see why.
"So, uh. . .do you want to show him the library a bit more?" Adam asked, trying to put off the moment he would have to tell them what happened to the castle.
"I think you promised us a story," Belle said, looking at him with a raised eyebrow, silently saying that she knew what he was trying to avoid it and that it wouldn't work.
"Let's—let's sit," he said nervously and motioned to the chairs by the fireplace. He allowed Belle and Maurice to sit first, choosing between the arm chair and the sofa. Adam silently wished to sit beside Belle on the sofa, but would understand if Maurice wanted to remain close to his daughter. To his selfish joy, however, Maurice had chosen the arm chair and Adam was free to sit beside Belle. He was comforted by her nearness, but it didn't make the story any less easy to tell. Adam sat in silence for a moment, twisting his hands together and wondering how to begin.
"Adam?" Belle said cautiously and placed her hand over his, halting their nervous movements. Adam looked up to meet her eyes. "It's all right. You can trust us; we just want to know what happened to you," she said softly, her words washing over him and calming him enough to take a breath.
"I—I was always a very selfish child," he began haltingly, hoping that Belle would keep her hand holding his own. It gave him strength to feel her so close to him. "I was the oldest, the heir to my father's throne, so I was allowed to do what I wanted. I'd rather not go into detail about that," he cringed at the very thought of relating to Belle what he had done as a boy. "But you can be sure it wasn't good. My mother was the only one who could handle me. She's the one—the one who taught me to play the piano. It was the only thing that would keep me calm for any length of time."
He glanced at Belle again and saw the light of understanding in her eyes. She nodded in what he could see was recognition of the incident between them and the piano and motioned for him to continue.
"She died of scarlet fever when I was eight. So did my little sister." He heard Belle gasp at the mention of his sister, but he ignored it, eager to pass this part of the tale. "My father returned to the main castle the family owned and left me here to terrorize the castle. This is just the summer home. Mother liked it here best, so we spent most of our time here," he explained quickly, forgetting that he had not mentioned it before. He had spent most of his life here, it was easy to forget there were others.
"Mrs. Potts had tried to become a mother-like figure for me," he continued. "She would tell me stories and calm me down when I had nightmares, even though she had her own small son to take care of and had just lost her husband to the fever. I owe her so much for those years," Adam trailed off and was lost for a moment in gratitude and shame for Mrs. Potts' unwavering good nature in the light of all that he had done. A small squeeze of Belle's hand brought him back to the present and he took a breath to continue his tale.
"There was a Christmas celebration the year I turned eleven. The servants put everything together to please me, but I still demanded gifts from them," Adam felt his heart contract in shame at how he had treated them. "I was furious when the celebration was interrupted by an old beggar woman. I answered the door myself because I knew the servants wouldn't punish whoever interrupted my night. The woman at the door offered me a rose in exchange for shelter from the storm, but I was so disgusted by her I slammed the door in her face." Adam closed his eyes against what he had to say next, unwilling to say it out loud but wanting Belle to understand.
"There was a great light and the doors opened by themselves to show a beautiful woman hovering several feet above the ground and bathed in light. I realized I had made a horrible mistake and tried to beg for forgiveness from the Enchantress, but she cursed me and transformed me into the Beast. She said that I had no love in my cruel heart and until I learned to love someone and earned their love in return, I would be doomed to remain a Beast. But I only had till the year I turned twenty-one, before the last petal of the rose fell, otherwise I would remain the Beast forever."
"The rose in the West Wing," Belle interrupted. "That was your time-keeper. So when I went to touch it. . ." she trailed off and Adam watched her connect all the facts of his story. "No wonder you were so angry with me."
"It's no excuse," he said quickly. "You couldn't have known."
"So you've been a Beast for ten years?" Maurice asked and Adam turned his gaze to the old man to nod. "How could an Enchantress have cursed a boy? She couldn't have known you would always be so cruel."
"I was a very awful boy," he assured Maurice. "And I hadn't changed, not until I met Belle. She was the first one to stand up to me and show me the beauty in life. None of the servants would contradict a Prince; there was no one to tell me to stop until Belle."
"She's always been the sensible one," Maurice said proudly, grinning at his daughter. "Doesn't put up with much, my Belle." Adam chuckled and agreed, enjoying the way Belle blushed at her father's words.
"But why curse the servants as well?" Belle asked. "What had they done to deserve that?"
"I suppose it's because they let me become the monster I was," Adam suggested. "Though if you ask me it's my father who should've been cursed, not them. They were only following orders. And Mrs. Potts did try." Adam sighed and shook his head. "I wish I could give them those long years back. Truly they didn't deserve it."
"I know they love you," Belle reassured him. "And it seems you really appreciate them now."
"Some of them want to leave," he confessed, remembering his conversation with Mrs. Potts. "They want to return to their families, which I understand, but I don't know what they're going to say to explain all this. Mrs. Potts wants me to address the servants later on and I have to figure out what to say to them."
"I think that's a wonderful idea," Belle said. "You should explain to everyone what happened between us. And perhaps suggest some sort of story for them to tell instead."
"You've been traveling," Maurice suggested. "And needed them in your retinue. Perhaps they could elaborate their positions to make it more believable."
Adam nodded gratefully. "I think that will work, thank you, monsieur. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to stand up in front of all those people."
"I'll be there with you, if you want," Belle offered shyly.
"I'd like that," he confirmed with a crooked smile and took a firmer grip on her hand.
"Huh, well you two lovebirds better get on with it then," Maurice announced, causing Belle to jump and break eye contact with Adam. "With the speech, I mean. I'm starving, and I suppose we're not eating until after you talk to them." Adam grinned and summoned Cogsworth, instructing him to gather all the servants by the grand staircase.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Adam stood on the grand staircase, a few steps above the main floor so that everyone might see and hear him. He hands were shaking and his legs threatened to collapse under him, but with Belle close beside him he found the strength to remain standing.
He explained to the crowd of servants before him all that had happened in the past couple of days between Belle and himself (though he was almost positive that everyone was very much aware of what happened at the last dinner he and Belle shared). He thanked them graciously for their service through such a hard time and, following Belle and Maurice's advice, told them that anyone was free to leave who wished to, but would they please tell their families they had been traveling abroad with the prince? The crowd laughed at this, which Adam hoped was a sign they would honor his request.
"But," he added as an idea suddenly came to him, "would you stay until the end of the week? I would be honored to celebrate the end of the curse with you all. A banquet, perhaps? And a dance?" Though the end of his speech was less than eloquent, it was met with loud cheers and smiling faces. Adam couldn't help but smile at their happiness, a joy that he easily shared.
As the servants dispersed to make their preparations for the promised celebration, Belle took a step closer to him and wrapped her hands around his arm. "Well done, my love," she said softly and rested her head on his shoulder. He turned his face to kiss the top of her head.
"Will you wear the yellow gown again?" he whispered into her hair. She turned her face to his, a beautiful smile spread across her face as she nodded in agreement.