Though she hadn't slept in almost forty-eight hours, Belle felt wide awake. She and her father ate dinner with the Beast—Adam—after he had addressed the servants. She was pleased to see how well they seemed to get along, once Adam was able to overcome his obvious nervousness. He had even given her father a room of his own in the castle to use as his workshop. They hadn't seen it yet, but Adam promised it was a massive stone room with plenty of ventilation and light and Belle could only hope it was capable of holding up against any explosion her father would inevitably create.
Her father was overjoyed and throughout dinner he and Adam discussed little else besides pulleys and levers and gears. It was a subject Adam seemed quite knowledgeable about, which surprised Belle, but she was glad of this connection between him and her father, even if she was left out of the conversation a bit.
Dinner had left her with much to think about, not to mention everything that happened since the previous night. Her mind whirred, jumping first to the previous night with Beast in the ballroom, then to Adam in his beautiful green jacket, then back to the Beast dying in her arms only for her mind to leap forwards again at the tender goodnight they had shared just a few hours ago now. She even spared a thought for Gaston; he didn't deserve to die, but he did so because of his own blind jealousy and rage. The guilt she felt at his death was somewhat eased with the knowledge that the village was certain to give him a proper burial.
What she thought about most, however, was her future with Adam. She loved him with all her heart, that could not be disputed. And she saw in his deep blue eyes that he loved her as well. Now that her father had joined them in the castle as well, Belle was content to live her life there. What would be proper, and indeed what she hoped for with all her heart, was for Adam to marry her.
The thought of spending her life with Adam, with her kind and gentle Beast, sent her heart beating wildly with excitement. But did he feel the same? Surely now that he was a prince again there would be certain duties for him to follow, but would those responsibilities allow her to stay beside him? Her fairy tales spoke of princes marrying other princesses, but just as often a royal found their love in someone of lower birth. Was there a real custom Adam had to follow for whom he could or could not marry?
She shook her head and told herself she was being silly. They had just declared their love for each other last night, for goodness sakes, and already she was worried about marriage! Giving up on trying to sleep, she stood and opened the doors of the inanimate wardrobe to fetch her dressing gown. When Madame Armoire had become a handsome woman with dark brown hair and an easy smile, she had moved back into the servants quarters.
Belle missed the wardrobe's boisterous moods and wished Madame Armoire was there now. 'The Master is crazy about you!' she would have said, and did often say in the past couple of weeks. The thought made Belle smile, but did not ease her mind. Madame Armoire would return in the morning, Belle reasoned, but until then Belle needed a distraction.
She donned her dressing gown, lit a candle, and softly padded her way down to the library. There had been many sleepless nights where Belle had escaped to the library. Her books distracted her from her own thoughts, whether they be about an argument she and the Beast had, or about the kindness in his eyes she couldn't quite explain to herself.
Once inside the library, she could instantly breathe a bit better. Setting the candle on a table beside a sofa, she stoked up the fire and settled in with Grimm's fairy tales. She found herself analyzing the happy endings between royals and non-royals, however, and had to set it aside. She picked up instead Shakespeare's Hamlet and was soon engrossed in the madness that ensued between the characters.
Adam rose the next morning before dawn after a night of very little sleep. He sat on the edge of his bed in the darkness for a few moments, recalling all that had happened to him in the past couple of days. It seemed impossible that the spell had been broken, but the bed itself had been enough to prove to him that it was true; he had not slept on a proper mattress since the night he had become the Beast, having torn it to shreds in anger at his transformation. If there was any doubt still in his mind, the cold stone that met his bare, furless feet as he left his bed was a harsh reminder.
He dressed by the light of a candle and left the West Wing to pace the halls. The servants had not woken yet so the castle was quiet, allowing him to think in peace.
What would happen now that the spell was broken and he was human? He had no idea how to be a prince, nor did he have any desire to be, but he supposed it would be harder to hide from the world now. Doubtless Cogsworth was only biding his time, waiting to pounce on Adam with a thousand reminders of his responsibilities as Prince.
Briefly he wondered if his father was still alive so that Adam might not have to shoulder full responsibility for their lands, but that meant attempting to contact the man who had abandoned Adam to his own destruction. But if his father was alive, it might mean Adam could have the luxury of taking his time to learn to be human again and, more importantly, learning to be human with Belle by his side.
As he passed the library, he noticed the soft glow of the fire shining beneath the doors. Knowing Belle must be inside, he opened the door and quietly crept over to the sofa by the fireplace where he could see Belle's tiny feet draped over the arm, her slippers lying forgotten on the floor. Adam peered over the back of the sofa and smiled. Belle was sound asleep, the inevitable book lying on her chest, rising and falling with her breathing. Her face was turned somewhat away from him and her mouth was slightly open, a strand of hair fallen across her forehead.
He watched her breathe for a moment or two as the dying firelight danced across her pale skin and struggled to breathe himself. She was so lovely, so beautiful he hardly believed himself worthy of her. Belle shifted in her sleep and Adam remembered fondly that this was not the first time he had found her sleeping in the library.
The first time, they had just had an argument over the book Belle had been reading to him. It was an epic poem called Beowulf which at first he found quite boring, but when the hero murdered the creature called Grendel as well as its mother, he found himself infuriated at the tale. Belle had argued in favor of Beowulf since Grendel was terrorizing the people, which Adam found extremely insulting given the fact that he himself was a monster. He argued that perhaps Grendel wasn't the monster Beowulf and the others said he was, but Belle was stubborn. He left in a huff and took to pacing the halls during the night, going over their argument in his head. In the small hours of the morning, he discovered the light in the library and peered in to see Belle asleep on the window seat, Grimm's fairy tales fallen on the floor.
Their relationship was still in its early stages, tentative and uncertain, so he merely draped his cloak across her to keep her from becoming chilled, placed the book on a nearby table, and left. The next morning, she had returned his cloak with her thanks. Though they hadn't finished Beowulf, Belle started reading A Midsummer's Night Dream to him. He never commented on her sudden change of reading material and their argument was forgotten.
It wasn't only late night slumbers in the library he witnessed. Just three weeks ago, there had been a been a terrible snowstorm that had kept Adam up most of the night, barricading windows and doors. Belle had admitted to getting very little sleep as well because of the storm. Apparently she had been helping Mrs. Potts try to calm the teacups, no small feat in the middle of the fierce storm. Despite their exhaustion, they both agreed that they wanted to continue the book they had been reading. Adam did not want to deny her the pleasure of continuing the story on his account, but he found his eyes became heavier and heavier as Belle's sweet voice fairly lulled him to sleep.
He woke with a start at a sudden thump and was instantly worried he might have offended Belle by falling asleep. But when he looked at her in the chair across from him, he noticed that Belle had fallen asleep as well, her legs curled under her and her head cradled in her arms against the side of the chair. The book she was reading had slipped from her lap to fall with a thud to the floor, which of course was what had woken him. Adam merely smiled at her sleeping form before leaning his head back on his chair and lapsing once again into slumber, hoping he wouldn't snore.
Adam brought himself back to the present as a ray of early morning sunlight coming through the windows momentarily blinded him. Provoked into moving by the light in his eyes, he knelt beside Belle and tried to find the bravery to brush the strand of hair out of her face as he was longing to do. Reminding himself that Belle loved him and was comfortable with him, he raised his hand and brushed aside the wayward strand, lingering on her warm cheek.
Belle's eyes wearily fluttered open and Adam's heart momentarily stopped, worried at what she might think having him so close. But Belle only smiled sleepily at him and he grinned in return.
"Sorry to wake you," he whispered. "It's still early if you want to go back to sleep." Belle nodded and Adam moved to leave her alone, but Belle took hold of his hand and drew him towards her. She sat up momentarily to lead him onto the sofa only to lie back down once he was settled, placing her head on his lap.
Startled by this sudden, unfamiliar development, he sat frozen for a moment, unsure what to do. As Belle's breathing evened, signifying that she had gone back to sleep, Adam wrapped one hand around her stomach and with the other he lightly stroked her hair that was draped over his lap. It was bliss sitting there like that, his beloved so at peace in his presence. He found his own worries washing away as he gently ran his fingers through Belle's hair, and couldn't resist drifting off to sleep.
He woke to the feeling of his cheek being lightly kissed and opened his eyes to see Belle kneeling on the sofa beside him.
"Good morning," he muttered sleepily, not quite ready to wake up just yet.
"You didn't sleep well, either?" she asked, moving to rest her head on his shoulder.
"Lots to think about, I guess." He felt Belle nod in agreement and he wondered what had plagued her sleep. Were they thoughts of him? And if so, how horrible were they to have kept her awake?
"Belle?" he asked, turning to he could look at her straight on. She leaned back on her feet as he moved and looked at him curiously. Her hair was a bit tousled from sleeping, but her eyes were bright and her smile heartwarming. "Are you happy here with me?"
"You've asked me that before," she reminded him. "Just two nights ago." He nodded, acknowledging that he remembered the night they had danced together and held each other close. He was so nervous to be in her presence that night but still determined to admit his true feelings for her. How could he forget that night?
"But that was before all this happened," he said, motioning an arm to encompass himself, the castle, and the enchantment. "Are you happy here, with me like this, with everything you know about me now?"
"Of course," she assured him. "I love you, Adam. You must know that. Though I have to admit it's still hard to believe that you were awful enough to provoke an Enchantress."
"You have no idea how much you've changed me," he said with a smile, though he had never been more serious in his life. If Belle hadn't been so brave. . .he shuddered as he thought how close he had come to remaining a Beast forever. Assuming he hadn't died at the hands of Gaston, that is, which he had also come horribly close to doing.
"Adam?" Belle's hand came up to cup his cheek and Adam's eyes were drawn to hers. "What is it? There's something you're not telling me."
"How can you read me so well?" he asked, avoiding her question with his honest surprise.
"You're face might have changed," she explained, "but your eyes still give you away." Adam could see that Belle was determined to find out what was wrong; he sighed heavily and gazed at Belle dismally, hoping she wasn't going to make him admit what he had done. But her gaze never faltered and it was clear she wasn't going to let this go.
"I—I've destroyed lives, Belle," he grunted and turned away from her, unwilling to see the inevitable disappointment in her eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"I've done horrible things to some of my servants. Any who dared to confront me after my father left me, any who were brave enough say 'no' to me, I threw them in the dungeons like I did your father. I denied them food and then banished them from the castle, all because they tried to stand up to me. I was so cruel to them, Belle. I was a monster."
Belle was silent for a long time and Adam began to give up hope that she would speak to him again.
"How many times did this happen?" she finally asked. Her voice was even and impassive, but it only made Adam more ashamed that Belle should have to control her emotions so.
"Twice. I never knew what became of them. I didn't care at the time. But Belle, there's something else, something I need you to know if you're going to stay here with me." His heart pounded in his ears, unwilling to tell Belle the horrible things he had done but knowing that Belle deserved the truth. If he could have told her earlier without revealing the enchantment to her, he would have, but it was impossible until now.
"What's that?" she asked carefully.
"After my father left, I was completely alone. I had the servants, but not my family. I was just a boy, a selfish boy. . .there's no excuse but you have to understand." Belle nodded encouragingly, though her expression was one of apprehension. With a deep breath, Adam continued.
"It was Christmas night, the night I was cursed to be the Beast. Everything had been going wrong that day, at least as far as I was concerned. I was woken too early, my breakfast was wrong, my room was too cold. . .everything that a selfish child could pick at, I did. So by the time dinner was over, I was overwhelmed with rage. To make it worse, it was also the first Christmas my father didn't send me a gift. It wasn't the lack of the gift itself that I was angry at, but the knowledge that he had at last forgotten me. So when the servants presented me with a book, it was only a reminder that there was nothing from my father.
"They were only trying to pacify me, but it would have been better if I had gotten nothing at all. I wanted to know the name of the man who had sold them the book, this book that was the only gift I was to receive since my father chose to ignore my existence. I was convinced the only way to stop this was to stop the bookseller from remaining in business. This unknown man had caused me pain, so I was going to stop him from doing any more harm. I gave an order for my guards to find this man, kill him, and destroy his shop."
Belle gasped and Adam hung his head, his shame painfully growing inside him like a poison. But he continued. "The order was not carried out. The Enchantress decided to make her appearance then and, well you know the rest. I suppose my order had been the final straw." Belle was silent. When Adam dared to raise his eyes from his clasped hands, she wasn't even looking at him, directing her gaze instead to the floor. She hated him now; how could she feel any differently?
"I'm sorry," he muttered hopelessly and bitterly wished that he had not been so cruel. Belle deserved better. He stood and started to leave; his past was too much to be overlooked by who he had tried to become. No one, not even Belle, could possibly forgive him for what he had wanted to do that horrible, fateful Christmas night.