A Change In Me

Chapter 26

Belle slept poorly that night, as she had feared she would. Occasionally she would lapse into slumber but was always woken quickly by the leering faces of the villagers. In the deepest part of the night, she found herself wishing she was back in the castle so she could find peace in the library. She couldn't even look for solace in her own books, since they had all been packed away and waiting for her at the castle. Even if they weren't, Adam was stretched out to sleep in front of the fireplace by the bookshelves. She wouldn't want to wake him, not after all he had done for her and her father that day. So she only paced the length of her small room, stopping occasionally to watch the moon's journey across the night sky.

The moon was bright that night, but the stars were brighter still, seeming to wink at her from their place in the dark blanket above. She couldn't help but be reminded of the night she and Adam had shared in the ballroom; the stars had been bright that night too and everything seemed so wonderful, like a chapter from one of her storybooks. Was it truly less than a week ago that she had danced in the Beast's arms? So much had happened since then, both good and bad, it seemed almost a lifetime away.

Belle hugged her arms and leaned against the windowsill, breathing in the cool night air as she looked up to the skies. Tomorrow they would return to the castle and Belle would be home for good. Even now her room seemed odd to her and it was clear that she no longer belonged here. She couldn't wait to go back to the castle and live her life there with Adam.

She made not attempt hold back the smile at the very thought of it, and inevitably her mind wandered to the anticipation of Adam possibly proposing to her. He loved her, didn't he? And she was living in his castle, after all, surely a proposal couldn't be far away. Belle shivered in excitement at the sudden vision of walking down an aisle towards Adam.

She shook her head and told herself to stop being silly. Adam was barely a week out of a ten year enchantment and under pressure from the possibility of resuming his royal duties. The last thing on Adam's mind would be proposing to her. But she would wait for as long as he needed and she would be beside him through everything he would face.

She shivered again, this time from the cool air, and retreated back to her bed to huddle under the covers. The idea of marrying Adam was thrilling, but she could wait until he was ready.

Beast's POV

Belle looked exhausted when she came downstairs that morning and Adam knew she had to have been kept awake by what the villagers had done to her. He had been so worried about her after what happened yesterday; neither of them had expected the villagers to act so cruelly, but Belle had clearly taken badly. He had done his best to cheer her up, but apparently hadn't accomplished much based on the dark circles under her eyes. But when he went to her, knowing his face expressed all the worry he felt for her, she smiled sweetly at him as she always had before.

"Were you comfortable enough down here?" she asked as she bent to prod the fire into life.

"Oh, yes very," he replied quickly. He didn't admit how odd it felt sleeping somewhere other than his castle, though. There were several times he woke during the night panicked and confused only to remember that he was in Belle's cottage. He was also a bit stiff from sleeping on the floor despite the blankets and cushions and his muscles ached from loading the wagons, but he was far more concerned about Belle.

"Are you all right?" he asked, gently placing what he hoped to be a comforting a hand on her shoulder.

"Of course. I'll be glad when we put the village behind us, though," she admitted with a guilty smile. Adam readily agreed; anyone who could treat Belle as harshly as those villagers had did not deserve to have her. He tried not to remember that he had once behaved even more callously towards Belle and forced himself to move passed it as Belle asked him so often to do.

"So we'd better get started then," he chose to say instead of all that he was thinking.

"Breakfast first," she insisted. "I'll wake Papa while it's cooking and we'll start work afterwards."

"Good idea, but before you do. . ." Adam pulled her into his arms and held her close to his chest. Belle had given a little 'oh!' of surprise, but wrapped her arms around him all the same. He bent down and pressed his lips to hers, enjoying the way his mind slipped into bliss and forgot everything except her nearness.

"I will never get tired of that," Belle sighed when her lips were free.

"Good," Adam said and kissed her again. "Neither will I." After one more quick kiss he released her. "Now let's see to breakfast so we can pack up and return to the castle. I'm sure the servants are at their wits' end by now with preparing for the celebration without your help."

"Is that tomorrow?" she asked as she led him towards the kitchen. Adam silently counted the days in his head.

"The day after that, I think. That will give you and your father plenty of time to settle in with your things. Which reminds me, what is your father planning to do with all that furniture?"

"Oh, who knows? He uses all sorts of odds and ends in his machines. For his last one he even took my tea pot. I was due for a new one though and didn't argue, but he never throws anything out if he can help it." Adam chuckled and started to realize what exactly he had gotten himself into with Maurice.

"Well I hope he doesn't try that at the castle. Mrs. Potts would have his head." Belle laughed and agreed.

The servants who had helped them the day before had arrived shortly after Adam, Belle, and Maurice had finished breakfast. With their help, the house was emptied in a matter of hours and only two of the three wagons had been filled.

"Is that everything?" he asked, dusting his hands after helping one of the servants, Frederick, load the trunk from Maurice's room into the wagon.

"I think so," Belle said slowly. "I'd better check to make sure." Adam noticed that Belle seemed a bit troubled and began to ask why before realizing it had to be because she was leaving her home behind.

"Perhaps your father can help you," he suggested, motioning to Maurice where he stood a little ways away from them, gazing at the cottage. They both needed to say goodbye to this place and close its door without regret. "I'll wait here."

Belle nodded and Adam watched as she took her father into the house one last time. He knew there would inevitably be some despair about leaving the cottage and it seemed best to give them the space to have it. Adam hoped he wasn't causing them too much distress, though. He didn't want them to feel forced to live in the castle, but both Belle and Maurice seemed willing enough to stay and he trusted that Belle would have told him otherwise.

When they disappeared behind the cottage door, Adam sent the two full wagons and all the servants on towards the castle, leaving the third nearly empty wagon for the three of them to ride alone. He leaned against the side of this third wagon and waited patiently for Belle and her father to emerge.

As he gazed about his surroundings idly, admiring how beautiful the growing spring was, he noticed a figure standing quite near the water wheel attached to the cottage. Adam's attention was caught by this figure and tried to see who was peaking at the house. It was a very odd looking man; he was the shortest person Adam had ever seen, with quite a large nose and bristly black hair tied behind his head. This odd man did not seem to notice that Adam was staring at him, so Adam decided to call out to him.

"Hello, there!" he called, hoping this would be considered a friendly greeting. The man jumped as if frightened and stared at Adam. He showed no sign of returning Adam's greeting, so Adam walked over to him, intent on learning why he was there. The man watched him walk towards him with a look of fright on his face and Adam tried to control his expression to avoid scaring him off.

"Nice day, isn't it?" Adam asked when he came within a few yards of the short man. He nodded quickly but still said nothing. "What's your name?" Adam tried a more direct question, hoping he could get something from this man.

"Lefou," he muttered and looked down at his shoes. "Why are you here?" Lefou asked suddenly, looking up sharply at Adam with an unexpected fury. Adam was surprised by this action and took a moment to respond.

"I'm taking Belle and Maurice away from here," he replied, unsure how much he should say. "The villagers here are cruel to Belle. She deserves something better, don't you think?" Lefou's only response was to look down at his shoes again.

"Lefou?" Belle's voice came from the door of the cottage. "What are you doing here?"

"You know this man?" Adam asked.

"Yes, he was Gaston's . . .um, closest friend." Adam took an involuntary step away from this strange little man.

"Then you must have turned the village against Belle," he accused angrily. "She did nothing wrong! How could you do that to her?"

"I did not!" Lefou protested, his voice twisted into a pitiful whine. "I wasn't the only one there that night, you know. Everyone saw how angry Belle made Gaston. She practically challenged him to go after that stupid monster! Most of them saw Belle riding towards the castle too, and saw Gaston fall from the rooftop not long after she went inside. Everyone knows how you betrayed Gaston!" he exclaimed, directing his attention to Belle who gasped and took a step backwards.

Adam growled, anger rising in his chest as this tiny man accused Belle of such horrible things. The growl was no where near as deep or menacing as it had been in the chest of the Beast, but Lefou still jumped and backed up a few paces. Before he could do anything else though, Belle placed a hand on his arm and caught his eye. He understood her warning glance and backed off, though he continued to glare at Lefou, silently daring him to insult Belle again.

"Why are you here, Lefou?" she asked gently. He did not deserve to be talked to so kindly, but Adam understood that this was Belle's undertaking and said nothing.

"I heard you were back in town and I wanted to see if it was true," he replied tightly.

"Yes, but not for long. You and the rest of the village will be rid of me after today," Belle replied, her voice still pleasant but Adam heard a note of impatience in it.

"What? Where are you going?" Lefou asked, clearly surprised by this information.

"To live with Adam," she said simply, motioning towards him. Lefou glanced between Belle and Adam in astonishment.

"You're marrying him?" Lefou pointed indignantly at Adam. "You chose him over Gaston?"

"Yes," she said shortly and Adam was relieved she passed over the comment about marriage.

"But Gaston loved you since you first moved here, the moment he laid eyes on you! You've known this guy for what, five minutes?"

"Gaston never loved me," Belle raised her chin and declared sternly. "He didn't understand what love was. He wanted to possess me; I was no more than a trophy for him to obtain and admire, a thing for him to give him seven sons and slave for him. You should forget all that he's taught you about women." Adam was disgusted by this information. Belle had told him how horrible Gaston had been, but these details were disturbing. Lefou's expression of shock at Belle's words only infuriated him further. Couldn't he see what a horrible person Gaston had been?

"Let's go, Adam," Belle said with a note of finality. "I'm done here. Perhaps you can find someone to use the cottage," she added to Lefou before turning and walking towards the wagon. Her father joined them and they helped him into the seat of the wagon. Lefou still had not moved, apparently set on watching them leave.

"Should we do something about him?" Adam asked, glancing towards Lefou who looked very lost and alone.

"I don't know what else I can do," Belle sighed. "He spent his whole life as Gaston's lackey; now that he's gone Lefou has to find his own way. I hope he takes my hint and keeps the house for himself. That would help him get on his feet, I think, being able to escape from the village. He was teased as much as I was, you know. He just chose to embrace it differently than I had. Where I chose to ignore it behind my books, he jumped into the middle of it with both feet."

"He was hungry for power," Maurice added as he helped Belle up onto the seat beside him. "He couldn't do anything about it himself, but being beside Gaston he could at least share in Gaston's glory. Cowardly creature."

"You don't mind that I offered him the house, do you Papa?" Belle asked as she settled beside her father.

"Of course not. Someone should get use out of it. And I think you're right he'll need somewhere to go now."

"Let's go home, then," Belle said happily and took up the reins. Adam grinned, quickly realizing that she meant the castle as her home, and jumped into the back of the wagon so they could be on their way. Before Adam lost sight of the cottage behind the trees, he noticed Lefou slowly climbing the stairs of the recently vacated cottage.

Many of the servants had gathered in front of the castle when they arrived. At the sight of so many smiling, human faces, Adam's joy at the broken curse was renewed. It was still so unusual for him to see the human faces he knew only from his childhood and odder still to feel the warmth in his chest at seeing their happiness. He had spent years in anger but they had stood by him; now he wanted to start again and do better by them.

As they pulled up to the castle's doors, Belle climbed down from the wagon before Adam could offer to help her and embraced Mrs. Potts, who stood closest to her.

"It's good to be back." Belle declared to the crowd when she broke away from Mrs. Potts. "I've missed you all so much!"

"Even me?" Chip asked, peaking out from behind his mother's skirts.

"Especially you," Belle responded and bent to embrace the child. Adam couldn't help but beam at Belle; the servants obviously loved her and she treated them so well, befriending and overseeing them equally. Belle was suited to the life of a royal; she was meant to be a princess. The land could only prosper with her caring heart helping to govern it. Perhaps he would write to his father after all.

"All your belongings are waiting for you inside, ma cherie et monsieur," Lumiere said with a bow to both Belle and Maurice. "We were not sure what you want to do with everything, so we set them aside until you returned."

"Thank you, Lumiere. That's very kind of you. Perhaps after lunch I'll start to sort it all out."

"Allow us to help you," Cogsworth offered, coming forward and bowing to Belle himself. Several more voices rang out to volunteer their time. Adam's smile grew and he stepped forward to wrap his arm around Belle's waist.

"Sounds like we'll get it all sorted out before dinner," Adam remarked. "Thank you all for your help," he nodded towards the servants who had helped them pack the wagons.

"Yes, thank you," Belle echoed. "It would've taken so much longer without your help!" Wordlessly, the men smiled and bowed to Belle and Adam.

"Come on," Adam said. "Food then sorting. I'm starved!" Belle laughed and took his hand to lead him inside. He hardly needed to be led about his own castle, but it was pleasant to have her hand in his own.

Belle's POV

It was odd to know that her cottage was no longer part of her life, but she was happy with the choice she made. Now all that had to be done was sort through the piles in the antechamber. Though she was surrounded by people to help her, among them Cogsworth, Lumiere, Adam, and her father, the vast pile before her seemed a daunting task.

"How did all of this fit inside that tiny cottage?" she wondered aloud, putting her hands on her hips and shaking her head in disbelief.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" her father chuckled. "We've accumulated so much in just a few years."

"Perhaps it would be easiest if you delegate where everything should go, mademoiselle," Cogsworth suggested. "That way, nothing would be misplaced and we wouldn't have to wonder where to go."

"Good idea, thank you," Belle said gratefully. It would be no small feat to organize the piles, but at least that way it would be more efficient. "Papa, perhaps you could go to your workroom and tell them where you want all the furniture and supplies to go." Belle was glad he agreed to this; the last thing she needed was to worry about her aging father climbing up and down dozens of stairs and trying to lift more than he could handle. She had seen to it that he didn't strain himself at the cottage, and didn't want him to get hurt in the last leg of the move. "Let's get started then." Everyone stepped forward to pick up an object and Belle instructed them where to go: her room, Maurice's room, the workroom, and occasionally to the library. While she waited for them to return, she sorted some of the smaller items into piles, though quickly there became very little time between people to allow to do that.

"Where does this go, ma cherie?" Lumiere asked, motioning to the portrait of Belle and her mother. She smiled at it tenderly, tracing her eyes over the image of her mother.

"I suppose just in my father's room," she replied. At that moment, Adam walked in.

"Is that the painting of you and your mother?" he asked excitedly, coming over to look at it properly. "Your father said he wanted it in the library."

"Did he?" Belle was surprised Adam knew that.

"Yes, he said your mother would want to be with the books she loved." Belle smiled and suspected Adam had quite an interesting conversation with her father back at the cottage, but did not press for details. "Very well then, to the library please, Lumiere. Carefully?"

"But of course! I shall protect it with my life. But, may I ask, where is it to be hung?"

"Oh, just place it somewhere out of harm's way for now. I'll see to that later today," she said and Lumiere nodded and left.

"Your mother was very beautiful," Adam said as Lumiere left. "I wish I could have met her."

"I think she would've liked you," Belle said wistfully. Adam bent to kiss the top of her head before turning back to the pile of belongings.

"Where would you like this to go, Mistress?" he asked jovially, bowing to her with such ridiculous flourish that she was provoked into a giggle.

"You're just teasing me now," she accused merrily.

"A bit," he replied, giving her a crooked sort of smile. She stuck her tongue out at him briefly and told him to put the trunk at his feet in her own room.

"You have to be careful with this one too," she said quickly. "My mother's wedding dress is in it."

"Really? Can I see it?" he asked, bending to stretch his hand towards the trunk's latch.

"Certainly not," she replied and grinned at his surprised expression. She refused to give a reason for denying his request, but judging by the way Adam did not press the issue he had guessed why he couldn't see that particular garment.

Only a few hours later, the antechamber that had contained all of the cottage's belongings had finally emptied and Belle was left thanking the ranks of exhausted men.

"I don't know how to repay you for all that work you've done," she declared. "But I'm so glad that Papa and I have made the move here permanent."

"We are only glad that you wanted to," Lumiere said grandly. "The castle would hardly be the same without you here." The other servants heartily agreed and Belle felt her face grow warm.

"How are the preparations for the celebration coming?" Adam asked Lumiere and Cogsworth once the other servants were dismissed.

"Splendidly, of course Master," Cogsworth replied. "I took the liberty of talking to the dozen or so who want to leave to discuss arrangements for their departure."

"Make sure to send them with plenty of supplies, and for their families as well," Adam requested and Belle smiled at his thoughtfulness. He wanted to make sure these people were well looked after, even after they left his service.

"I'd like to say goodbye to them before they leave," Belle added. "Everyone has been so kind to me since I arrived here, I would like to thank them and see them off."

"It shall be done, mademoiselle," Cogsworth replied readily. He out of everyone still did not call her 'Mistress' but Belle knew this was not meant as an insult, only respect for social traditions. She would not be mistress of the castle officially until she was wed to Adam.

"Let's go find a place to hang that painting," Adam suggested and took her hand. With each day Adam grew more confident in showing his affection for her; at first Belle could sense his uncertainty in his touch but day by day he became more sure of himself around her.

"You've been so wonderful these past few days," she remarked as they walked towards the library hand in hand. "I know things haven't been easy for you, but I'm glad you came with me to help me move out of the cottage. I don't think I could have endured the villagers' reaction if you weren't there." She had been wanting to thank him for what he had done that day, but there had been too much commotion to take a moment to do so.

"I'm glad I came, too. Those people were so awful to you; I had no idea that one man could make an entire village so resentful. But, honestly once I remembered how to wear shoes again and that I'm not as strong as I used to be, it wasn't all that difficult to figure out being human again," he replied with a carefree tone in his voice.

"Shoes?" she was surprised by this of all things. Adam nodded and grinned.

"I hadn't worn boots in ten years. It was hard to remember to put them on at first." Belle giggled, never imagining such a small thing would be so strange. "I think it was easy for me to become human again though," Adam continued more seriously, "because you hadn't treated me like a monster. You helped me to regain my humanity even when I was the Beast, so all that was left for me to do was figure out the physical part of it." Belle nodded, trying to imagine how it would feel to suddenly have to hold herself differently and remember how to move or even dress. It seemed a daunting task, but Adam seemed to have figured it out quickly.

"Well I'm just glad we can settle in now and perhaps go back to the way things were," she said, slightly embarrassed to have been the subject of such a compliment. "We've hardly had a moment to ourselves all week."

Adam stopped walking and looked at her as though he wanted to say something. For a moment Belle was afraid she had said something to offend him. "Belle, I. . ." he paused again and Belle waited for him to collect his thoughts. "I've been thinking about what you said earlier, about whether or not I wanted to be a prince again." Belle nodded, acknowledging the conversation and wondering if this meant that he had decided. "I think it's my place to—to pick up the responsibility I was born to bear. But if I do, that'll mean I'd have relearn everything I started being groomed for as a boy. We wouldn't have so much time for each other."

Belle took a moment to process this information, but only a moment. "Then we'll make time," she said simply and raised a hand to trace his jaw line. "I think it's wonderful you want to take up your place in the world. And it will be a terribly exciting adventure, don't you think?"

"Terrible, yes," he grinned. "You really think we'll be able to spend enough time together? I don't want to be unfair to you."

"As long as we both want to, we'll find a way," she reassured him. Though she had very little idea at what would be in store for them, she was certain that they could overcome anything together. They had beaten an entire enchantment, hadn't they? What were a few lessons and royal duties? Her thoughts were cut off as Adam bent to pull her into a kiss.

"You're so good to me," he remarked as they broke away. Belle blushed and could think of nothing to say. "Come, let's put up that painting. Then perhaps we can read for awhile."

"All right," she readily agreed and they continued on their way to the library.

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