A Change In Me

Chapter 24

Belle wandered the halls while her father was in his new workroom and Adam appeased Cogsworth by overseeing some details to the castle's upkeep. She and Adam had just started reading Romeo and Juliet when Cogsworth requested Adam's help. She shouldn't have been surprised that the servants needed Adam, but Belle felt a bit overlooked as a result. She supposed that this was only the first in a long chain of interruptions they would have to endure and tried to keep herself busy by seeing what the servants were up to.

As she walked alone through the halls, she couldn't help but notice that every servant she came across (and it was still so odd seeing them as human) seemed to be rather excited about something. She didn't have long to wonder about this; nearly every servant she passed came up to her to ask her opinion on the upcoming celebration Adam had promised them. Bewildered at their desire for her opinion, she answered them as best she could, whether it be for a menu detail or the color of the flowers she desired. Of course Belle had no idea what Adam had in mind, and honestly she doubted he had thought that much about it, so she supposed that answering these questions would not be taken badly by him.

"Thank you, Mistress," they almost always said after she answered their questions, which surprised her even more than the requests themselves. After this happened several times, she decided to seek out Adam to ask him about it.

"They consider you the Mistress of the castle, of course," he replied nonchalantly when she found him again in the library, having apparently escaped Cogsworth. "They have for some time, but I think they've gotten more comfortable saying it out loud."

"But why?" she pressed. "You're Master here. I'm just a guest."

Adam raised an eyebrow at her. "You've been more than a guest here since you recovered from the wound the wolf gave you. And you weren't very shy about giving direction before then, anyway."

"I only—" she started to protest, but stopped when Adam began to chuckle.

"I'm glad you did. They came alive again when you arrived at the castle, and you did nothing but help that along. And honestly I'm glad they're asking you and not me. I don't know the first thing about celebrations like this."

"It was a good idea, though. It's just the thing they need, I think." Adam nodded but said nothing and she changed the subject.

Beast's POV

He was glad the servants were looking forward to the celebration and even more delighted to hear that they so easily accepted Belle's authority, but that led back to the terrifying question of where his relationship with Belle would go. He loved her more than anything and would give the world to be with her, but to do so would require courage he did not have. They very thought of it sent his hands shaking and his stomach twisting uncomfortably.

He was able to ignore the frightening and thrilling prospect the rest of that week by focusing on getting Belle and her father settled in. He was overjoyed that Belle's father had agreed to live in the castle with them since, as Maurice had pointed out that first day of Adam's humanity, it meant that Adam wouldn't lose Belle again. But Adam was also eager for the chance to make up for his unforgivable behavior towards Maurice and make him comfortable.

Maurice seemed to like his workroom, which was a good start, and Adam made sure to thank the servants who had gone to find the supplies he needed, but it made Adam slightly nervous when Maurice asked to retrieve his invention from home. Not because it wasn't possible, but Belle had decided she wanted to go back to the cottage as well.

She wanted to fetch her things from the cottage to make her move to the castle permanent, which should have delighted him but instead he feared that once she returned to her home in the village, she wouldn't want to come back. Adam tried to remind himself that she had come back to him once already and that he needed to trust she would again, but it still made him nervous to let her go.

He was not only concerned that she might not return, but also worried for her safety. Gaston was no longer a threat, but would the villagers be looking for revenge? Based on what Belle had told him, Gaston was quite popular amongst them. Would they connect Belle to his death and, if so, what would they do?

So he found himself asking if he could go with her.

"Oh! You—you really want to?" she asked. Belle looked surprised at his request and at first Adam was afraid she's say no.

"I'd like to see where you live," he admitted truthfully. It might not have been the entire truth, but it was certainly part of it.

"Lived, you mean," she corrected and Adam grinned. Perhaps she would come back to the castle after all. "I'd like that," Belle continued, her sweet smile making his heart beat faster as it always had. "But. . .are you going as a Prince, or just as yourself?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, now that the enchantment is lifted. . .we haven't really talked about this at all. But are you going to tell the world you're back, or do you want to try and stay hidden here? If you're going to come with me and Papa, that's something you should probably decide."

"Oh. I, uh. . .I hadn't really thought about it." Which wasn't true, of course, but he was reluctant to reveal to Belle his thoughts about his father and about her. "Can't we. . . I mean, can't I just go with you quietly and then see what happens later on? I really haven't been with people since I was a boy and. . ." he trailed off, unwilling to admit he was terrified of the crowd that would gather as the result of an announcement of a prince arriving in town. He had never been comfortable in front of crowds, and his years of near solitude were unlikely to have made it any better, something that was made clear when he tried to give the speech to his servants just after the enchantment's end.

"I think that's a wonderful idea. You've only just become human again, after all. There's no need to overwhelm you. But I think you'll have a hard time convincing Cogsworth." Belle was smiling, but her tone was serious. Adam agreed with her; it would be difficult to convince Cogsworth to let him go into town without making a royal affair out of it. Cogsworth had always been one for pomp and circumstance, but Adam wasn't ready for it. He sincerely doubted he would ever be ready to rejoin the world in such a position, but two days after he had become human again was surely too much to ask.

Adam managed to convince Cogsworth to let him go with Belle, Maurice, and four strong servants who had volunteered to help with the move, but Adam had the distinct impression he had hurt Cogsworth's pride. Belle helped him pick out a simple brown leather jerkin to wear and together they arranged three empty wagons to facilitate Belle and Maurice's belongings back to the castle. Adam was surprised how well the wagons had withstood ten years of sitting unused, though as he examined them he spotted several noticeable patch jobs. Adam smiled, knowing that some of the servants must have repaired them for Belle during the night.

Belle took her place in the seat of the first wagon and together she and Adam helped her father up to sit beside her. Unwilling to be far from Belle, Adam climbed into the back of the open wagon, stretching out and finding it surprisingly comfortable. Belle started the small convoy of wagons moving and Adam watched for a moment as the servants gathered at the front of the castle waved goodbye. He couldn't resist giving a bit of a wave himself, excited to be leaving the castle and seeing something new for the first time in so long.

"So how far is the village?" Adam asked as he turned away from the disappearing castle to face Belle. She glanced back quickly to smile at him but resumed her duty of directing the horses pulling the wagon.

"Not far. It's only little over an hour or so from here at this pace," she replied. "I'm afraid it will take at least the entire day for us to go through the house, though."

"I hope my machine's still somewhat intact," Maurice put in. "That little teacup did quite a number on it."

"What do you mean?" Adam asked curiously.

"Oh, Chip stowed away in my bag the night I went back home," Belle explained. "Gaston locked my father and I in the cellar so we couldn't warn you about what he was planning to do, but Chip used Papa's cutting machine to break us out. I'm afraid it's in quite a lot of pieces though, Papa. But I know you can fix it." Adam watched as Belle put her arm around Maurice's shoulders and turned away to give them a moment, watching instead the two additional wagons that traveled behind them while the servants driving them stared in awe at the surroundings. He realized with a start that they hadn't left the castle in years either. After being cooped up in the castle for ten years, many of them without even hands or feet, it was no wonder some of them wanted to leave.

The wagons made it through the trees, though once or twice they had to dislodge their wheels from between rocks and tree roots. As they drew out of the trees, Adam took in his new surroundings. To his right a short distance away he could see a bridge that led to what could only be the village. But what interested him most was what Belle was leading the wagons towards: Belle's cottage.

It was a charming place built of stone and wood set away from the village. Adam could see some of the details of the house that could only have been Maurice's work, such as the odd weathervane, the gears that connected some sort of windmill to something he could not see, and the rather ingenious water wheel. Adam was surprised at how small the cottage truly was, but its gentle charm perfectly befit someone like Belle.

"Here we are," Belle announced as she pulled the wagon up to the front door. "We should get to work. Would you four mind starting upstairs in the attic? If you could just pack the trunks you'll find into the wagons, Papa and I can go through them when have more time back at the castle." The servants who had followed them in the two additional wagons bowed and went to do as she bid. Adam watched Belle blush at being bowed to, but said nothing. "What do you think?" she asked him, motioning to the house as the servants disappeared through the front door.

"It's beautiful," he said honestly as he climbed out of the wagon. "It reminds me of a cottage from one of your storybooks." Belle seemed flattered by this comment for a moment, but her smile quickly turned into a thoughtful frown. "What is it?" he asked, worried he had upset her. She waited several moments to reply while her father made his way towards what looked like a broken cellar door.

"It does, but I can't tell you how many times I wanted to leave," she finally confessed once her father was out of earshot. "I dreamed of adventure, something this provincial town could not give me. When we moved here from the city I was angry for being so far removed from the places I imagined I would go. Though it took several years of waiting and wishing, I never thought I had an adventure waiting for me all the way out here," she finished with an excited smile at him. Adam's heart fluttered, daring to believe that the adventure she spoke of was perhaps referring to meeting him.

"Was it worth it? The adventure, I mean," he asked, following her towards the door.

"Oh yes," she replied easily. "I found love, after all, which was a much more exciting journey than I ever thought it would be. Come, I'll show you around." She led him inside the small cottage and Adam had to duck his head to avoid hitting the low frame.

Inside, Adam could see evidence of Belle all around the house; the bookshelves by the fireplace, the open book that still lay on the table, even the cushioned chair all painted a quaint picture of Belle's daily life in the village. It wasn't hard for Adam to picture Belle curled up in the cushioned chair with a book or bending over the fire to make herself tea. He walked over to the open book and gently touched its dusty pages; clearly this had lain open since Belle had left.

"I'm surprised Papa didn't put that away," Belle said, coming up beside him and dusting the pages off lovingly.

"It was probably easier to imagine you hadn't left that way," he muttered. If he had been able to picture Belle sitting to read that book so clearly, what must it have been like for her father all those months staring at that book?

"If you're going to be like this the entire stay, I'll send you home right now," she said and Adam was surprised to hear a small edge to her voice. "My father has forgiven you for what you did; you need to forgive yourself now, too." Her voiced eased and she placed a hand on his arm. Only then did he dare look at her, those beautiful brown eyes never lost their kindness, even when scolding him.

"I'm sorry," he said a bit shamefully. "I'm trying."

"I know you are," she assured him and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "In here's the kitchen and the back door that leads to where we kept the animals," she motioned to a doorway to his right.

"You have animals?"

"Just some chickens and a couple goats. I always leave their feed out, so they should have been fine these past couple days, but I'm sure they're a bit unhappy."

"Shall we check on them?" he offered, curious to see these animals.

"Oh, yes I suppose," she said, sounding a bit surprised at his suggestion, and led the way outside.

Adam had never seen goats or chickens up close before. They had a few of the small beasts at the castle when he was a boy, but he never bothered with them, thinking them too dirty and beneath him.

The animals seemed no worse for their three days of solitude, though their feed was getting a bit low. He watched with an amused grin as the chickens frantically dove towards the seeds Belle scattered on the ground for them in a flurry of feathers. It was a much different sport than feeding the small wild birds at the castle; the chickens were much less graceful and more greedy to reach the seeds first. The goats ignored this uproar, chewing placidly on their own food and seemingly oblivious to the world around them.

"They seem to be all right to me," Belle said as she finished spreading the chicken feed. "I'll have to find someone to buy them before we leave, though. Unless you want them at the castle."

"We might find some use for them. Cogsworth can stop sending for so much milk and eggs if you would be willing to bring them."

"That's something I've always wondered about," Belle said suddenly, turning towards him and leaning on a post of the overhang that protected the animals. "You weren't getting anything from the surrounding lands, since none of them knew you existed. At least, I know this village had no idea about your castle. But you always seemed to have anything I ever needed, at least as far as food and clothes. Where did it all come from?"

"Well the food I had sent in from the main castle in my family, where my father lives. . .or lived. But some of the clothes you wore were my mothers, like that yellow ball gown," he admitted.

"Oh, Adam I didn't know. I wouldn't have worn them if. . ." she looked upset by this news, so Adam took hold of her shoulders and merely smiled.

"I'm glad you wore them, Belle. And once the servants discovered you were my mother's size, they were able to send for others. But I will never forget how you looked that night we danced together when you wore that dress."

In a what he considered to be a daring and perhaps even an inspired move, he slipped his hands from her shoulders to hold her as he had when he danced with her as the Beast, one hand on her waist and the other gently enveloping her hand. He was rewarded with a delicate blush in Belle's cheeks and he began to slowly dance with her in the yard. His heart started beating faster as he guided her in gentle, small turns and nearly burst when Belle rested her head once more on his chest, bringing him back to the moment they had shared in the ballroom. But this time, he felt a bit braver knowing Belle loved him and leaned down to gently kiss the top of her head.

"Ahem," a voice interrupted Adam's blissful thoughts and startled him into breaking away from Belle. Maurice stood in the yard, apparently having just come out of the backdoor in search of them. Adam was embarrassed to have been caught with Maurice's daughter in his arms, but the old man was unsuccessfully hiding a grin.

"We should get to work if we're going to get anything done," he said merrily, and Adam nodded, unable to find his voice.

"Of course, Papa," Belle agreed and moved to take Adam's hand. "We'll come help you clean out your workroom." Belle gently pulled him towards the cellar doors, turning every so often to smile warmly at him, a gesture which he willingly returned.

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