A Change In Me

Chapter 31

Beast's POV

Adam sent his uncle off three days later after the rains stopped to try and convince the rest of the court of Adam's existence. He couldn't help feeling that he should've gone with his uncle, but he was more than happy for the excuse to spend more of his time with Belle. The lessons with his uncle had been more time consuming than he had originally thought, not to mention confusing, boring, and horribly overwhelming. There had been many times where Adam almost longed for the times where he had nothing to worry about but his own misery as a Beast.

After his uncle was gone, Adam decided to seek out Belle and headed straight to the library. As he opened the door to the library, all the thoughts of his lessons and his claim to his inheritance left at the sight that met him. Belle was curled up in her favorite chair by the fire, her legs pulled up under her and a book held so close to her face that Adam could not see her nose. Adam had encountered this same posture many times after he had presented Belle with the library and learnt quickly not to disturb Belle during such moments. He had made the mistake only once of distracting Belle from the book she was all but buried in; apparently, when she was in such a position it meant she was reading a particularly engrossing part of the book. The first and only time he disturbed her like this, he was met with a look of pure disappointment.

"What's wrong?" he had asked, not understanding. It was still early enough in their friendship then for him to worry that he had disappointed her by his mere presence and his heart began to sink.

"Nothing. . .it's just. . .that was such a good part," she replied and set the book aside.

"Don't let me stop you. Keep going."

"I can't. I'll have to start the chapter over again later. It's all right, though."

"Why will you have to start over?"

"It's like—like when you're running and you've just reached your stride, but suddenly you fall because you were distracted. You can't start again in a full run; you have to work yourself up to it. I suppose it's a bit like that: at a particularly exciting part of a book, I'm so engrossed in the story it's like finding my stride and I can't stop reading until I reach the end of it."

Adam felt badly about interrupting what was apparently the height of the book. Looking back, he supposed he knew what it was like; he did, after all, become entirely engrossed in most of the books Belle read to him.

With that memory in his mind, Adam simply took a seat in the chair across from Belle and waited for her to reach a natural stopping point. After a few minutes spent amusing himself watching Belle's expressions of surprise and wonder as she read, he began to leaf through a book that lay at the small table at his elbow. Several minutes later, a small sigh drew his attention back to Belle.

"How was it?" he asked as Belle lowered the book and saw her unsurprised smile when she noticed him sitting there.

"Suspenseful," she replied with another sigh and stroked the binding of the book.

"Well don't let me stop you. Keep reading if you want," he insisted. There was nothing pressing to do and he was more than happy to sit in peace with Belle nearby as long as she was happy.

"I thought I might take you to see what Louis and I have done in the garden. It looks beautiful now that the flowers have begun to bloom." She sounded so excited, how could Adam possibly say no? As she led him outside, Adam couldn't help but admire her animated babble about working the earth and helping the flowers grow. Nothing she spoke of sounded remotely like anything he wished to do himself, but he loved how her face lit up almost as brightly as when she talked about her books.

"Here it is!" she announced and motioned to a small garden bed against the walls of the castle. It was filled with colorful flowers whose names Adam didn't know and he discovered that he felt no joy at the sight.

"It's beautiful," he complimented dutifully. Though these flowers looked nothing like it, Adam couldn't help but see the enchanted rose that had ruled over his life for so long. This was the first time since the curse that he encountered flowers and he found that his previous indifference to them had grown into strong distaste at the knowledge of what one flower had cost him. But Belle enjoyed them and he had no intention of spoiling the beauty she had created despite the sharp memories of the Beast that flooded his mind. "You must have worked hard to grow these." He forced his mouth into a smile and hoped he could hide is discomfort.

"Yes, we did. It was kind of Louis to let me help with this; it was good to have a distraction while you were working with your uncle," she said as she leaned over to pluck a dead leaf from one of the stems of a purple blossom. Adam nodded but said nothing, trying to keep the image of the rose that was still suspended under the bell jar in the West Wing from his mind.

"Let's go for a walk," he suggested after a few moments of politely looking at the work Belle was clearly proud of. Once he was away from the perfume and blossoms of the flowers, his uncomfortable memories of his years as the Beast began to subside and he felt more like himself.

"It's getting so warm now," Belle commented as they walked the paths. "We should go on a picnic or for a ride soon. I'm sure Philippe is getting a bit stir crazy."

"I haven't ridden since I was a boy," Adam admitted. "But I have no doubt you'll teach me how." Judging by her sweet smile, Belle seemed to understand his reference to all that she had taught him to do while he was a Beast. "We should wait a bit though," he added. "The grounds are still too muddy." To make his point, he prodded the ground beside the path with the toe of his boot, the muddy ground making a loud squelching noise as he did.

"Louis said that the large garden is in bloom now," Belle said conversationally. "I haven't been there yet. Would you like to go see it with me?" Adam suppressed a flinch at the thought of walking through the walls of flowers, their bobbing faces taunting him as the flowers in Belle's small garden had. He had walked with Belle there many times in the winter when the flower beds were little more than sparkling snow banks, but he wasn't sure he was able to go there now. This new distaste for flowers complicated the plans he had begun to make, too. . .

"Perhaps another time," he muttered. His voice sounded gruff to his own ears and he noticed Belle's look of surprise, but he could think of no way to explain himself without admitting his rather foolish reason for staying away. "Are you hungry?" he asked, making sure to lighten his voice enough to make Belle realize he wasn't truly angry as his previous tone had suggested. Belle looked at him curiously for another moment, but apparently decided not to stress the issue.

"Starving," she replied and took a better hold on his arm.

"What am I going to do, Lumiere?" he groaned to the maitre d' that evening. He had just bid Belle goodnight after spending a long overdue day with her, but he could not possibly think of sleep at a time like this. So he called Lumiere and told him about what had happened at Belle's small garden. "What we planned for the garden was perfect, but I don't know if I can stand being there now. All because of this horrible rose," he growled and waved a hand angrily at the floating rose on the table by the balcony. "That flower ruined my life, now I can't stand to be around any of them!"

"You can always go somewhere else, Master," Lumiere suggested hesitantly. "The library perhaps."

"I thought about that, but it's not special enough. We spend nearly every day there. But it was when I watched Belle walk in the garden, the day I gave her the library, that I realized I started to care for her. It would be perfect, I just need to find a way around the flowers." He moved to lean his hands on the small table and glared hatefully at the red blossom that still somehow controlled his life.

"If I may ask Master, why do you keep the rose?" he heard Lumiere ask. He did not respond for several minutes; he had asked this question himself many times, but could never find an answer, nor could he think of an excuse to get rid of it.

"I—At first I kept it because it was a reminder that the whole thing wasn't a dream and that I really had. . .have someone who cared for me."

"But does Belle's presence not remind you of that now?" Adam nodded and saw what Lumiere was getting at.

"Then I kept it as proof to people like my uncle of what had happened, but he knew all along."

"Is there anyone else you need to prove your story to?"

"You know there isn't. I know what you're saying but even if I could destroy it, it doesn't mean my hatred of flowers will change."

"No, that is true. But is keeping it doing you any favors?" Adam frowned, wishing Lumiere would stop trying to be so clever and just come out and say what he wanted.

"What if I destroy it and it sends us back into the enchantment?" he asked, though the question sounded irrational in his own ears. Lumiere made no answer.

Carefully, still unsure of his intentions, Adam removed the bell jar and placed it carefully on the floor by the table, never taking his eyes off the rose. It remained suspended and Adam dared to reach a hand out to it. He gasped slightly as his fingertip met one silky petal, certain that something horrible would happen at his touch. When nothing happened, Adam took hold of the petal he had touched between his forefinger and thumb and pulled. The stem of the rose never moved, seemingly held in place by whatever magic kept it suspended, but the petal came off easily in his hand. He examined the crimson petal for a moment, delicate and innocent, showing no sign of the years of pain it had caused him.

"I don't think I'll destroy it after all," he said after a moment, still staring at the petal in his hand. "It's just a flower now. See?" He held the unremarkable petal up for Lumiere to examine, realizing that he had been foolish to see anything in Belle's flowers beside their own beauty.

"So, your plans. . .they are still acceptable?" Lumiere's voice was politely curious and Adam smiled knowing that he was trying to contain his emotions.

"I think so. I—I'll have to make sure tomorrow before I. . ." he trailed off as terror flooded his chest at what he planned to do.

"Be bold and daring, Master," Lumiere said as Adam lapsed into silence. Adam grinned at the familiar words and felt a small courage grow amongst the terror. "Have you talked to her father as Cogsworth suggested?"

"Not yet," he confessed, his fear renewing. "I'll do it tomorrow. Can you. . .I mean, will you. . ."

"I shall make sure Belle is elsewhere in the castle while you talk to him," Lumiere assured him and Adam nodded, grateful to Lumiere for both reading his thoughts and helping him plan this ever-important event.

"You should rest, Master. I will see you in the morning." Lumiere bowed and left the West Wing, leaving Adam alone with his thoughts.

He paced the floor in front of the table that still held the rose and wondered what on earth he was going to say to Maurice.

After a night of little sleep, Adam joined Belle and Maurice for breakfast as he usually did, but that morning he found himself distracted and fidgety. He was sure this behavior would draw questions, so he merely hid his trembling fingers beneath the table or with the weight of food on his fork and avoided eye contact with both Belle and Maurice. Fortunately, neither of them seemed to notice his odd behavior, or at least pretended not to.

When they had all finished eating, Maurice retreated to his workroom and Adam and Belle went for another walk. Adam suggested they return to the small garden Belle tended to under the pretense of seeing if any new blossoms opened. Truly though, Adam wanted to see if his decision not to destroy the enchanted rose had been the right one. They're only flowers, he reminded himself. They've got nothing to do with the enchantment. If anything, he should be embracing the memories the rose provided of Belle's presence in the castle, both before and after the enchantment was broken.

He approached the garden with some reservation but, though his mind briefly flickered back to the image of the glowing rose of the enchantment, he was quickly able to push it aside and appreciate these flowers for their own harmless beauty.

"May I?" he asked Belle, motioning to the closest patch of flowers: a small bush that held what seemed like hundreds of blossoms in various shades of pink. When she nodded, Adam drew closer to them and took in their sweet aroma and felt himself smile. Perhaps he still did not particularly care for flowers, but he seemed to master his unnecessary anger towards them. An impulsive move caused him to pluck one of the blossoms from the bush and present it to Belle. He grinned and watched a delicate blush grow in her cheeks as Belle took the blossom and tucked it into her hair behind her ear. The flower was illuminated by its new home of chestnut brown, highlighting the beauty of the one who wore it.

"You seem in a much better mood today," Belle commented, clearly desiring an explanation. So Adam took a breath and explained his recent reservations about flowers because of the enchanted rose and what he had accomplished today despite that one horrible rose.

"I never really even thought of it, but I suppose it was a flower that symbolized the entire enchantment. Are you sure you're all right now?" Adam nodded, but before he could respond he caught sight of an old man in a straw had approaching them pushing a small wheelbarrow. He looked familiar to Adam, but at this distance he couldn't quite place who he was. Belle noticed Adam's gaze and turned to see the approaching man.

"Oh, Louis!" Belle exclaimed merrily as the man drew closer.

"Bonjour Belle, Your Highness," the old man replied and bowed to Adam. When he straightened up, Adam was able to catch a glimpse of his face beneath the wide brimmed hat.

"Oh, you're the one who told me about Belle being outside in the rain," he realized. Louis nodded, acknowledging the event, but said nothing.

"You didn't think I would go inside on my own?" Belle asked lightly, almost teasingly. It was clear to Adam that she and Louis had become good friends over their time spent together.

"You seemed a bit distressed. I thought your Prince might want to help you."

"Thank you," Adam said gratefully. "I didn't realize I had been ignoring Belle until you sent me to her. You reminded me of what was important and I never intend treat Belle that way again." Again the man nodded but did nothing more except begin his work in the garden.

"He doesn't talk much," Belle explained quietly to Adam. "I'd like to help him for a little while. Do you want to join us?"

"No, I'm sure I wouldn't be of much help. Besides, I should study a bit so my uncle isn't too angry with me when he comes back. Come and find me when you're done?" Belle nodded in agreement. Adam kissed her goodbye, nodded to Louis, and retreated back inside the castle. But it wasn't to the study Adam's feet took him; instead he wound his way downstairs towards Maurice's workroom. With Belle safely occupied in the garden, Adam knew it was the perfect opportunity to talk to Maurice privately.

As he approached the door to the workroom, however, his previously confident gait began to falter. His hands started to shake and his heart pounded in his ears; once he actually turned to walk away from the workroom, only to turn around again almost angrily and stride quickly to the door before he could change his mind. Adam knocked on the door, almost hoping it wouldn't be heard amidst the loud banging sounds of Maurice's work. But the noises stopped and the door opened a moment later, revealing the stout older man wearing the magnified glasses Adam had quickly grown fond of. Wordlessly, Maurice pushed the glasses back on his head, looked Adam up and down, and stepped aside to let him in.

"I've been wondering when you'd come," Maurice said conversationally as he wiped his hands on a rag and motioned to a stool for Adam.

"I've been here before," Adam reminded him as he sat. Before his uncle had come, Adam spent many an enjoyable hour helping Maurice with his inventions. The one Maurice was working on now was a result of their combined ideas. Adam grinned when he looked at the machine and noticed several parts that could not be mistaken for anything else but the legs from the table in the cottage. Adam spared an amused thought for poor Lefou: he had gotten a house, but had to find all new furniture to fill it with.

"But never just to talk to me," Maurice said and gave Adam a knowing smile. Could Maurice really know why Adam was there? Adam clenched his shaking hands and tried to meet the man's eyes.

"That's true," he said slowly.

"Well?" Maurice prodded.

"I—uh. . ."Adam took a deep breath and tried to take comfort in the fact that Maurice already seemed to guess why he was there and seemed pleased by it. Another deep breath and the words he had practiced with Lumiere came back to him, increasing his confidence. "May I have your blessing to ask for Belle's hand in marriage?" He said it slowly, making sure to enunciate his words even though he wanted to blurt them out and get it over with as quickly as possible. He braved a glance towards Maurice and was encouraged to see him smiling.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" Maurice chuckled.

"I—but, will you?" Maurice's response was hardly an answer and Adam had begun to panic all over again.

"Well I'll leave it up to Belle to answer yes or no, of course, but you have my blessing to ask her." Adam's heart soared for a moment, hardly daring to believe he had obtained permission to marry the woman he loved. Except. . .

"Do you think she won't want to?" Adam asked in terror. He couldn't bear to think of the word coming from Belle's lips would be 'no.' She had said 'no' to him before, but those times had only been because he was disagreeable and mean. Surely this wasn't the case now?

"I know that Belle loves you, but I also know she'll do what she thinks is right for herself," Maurice replied. Adam could tell his words were meant to comfort, but they only made Adam panic more.

"But she took your place when I locked you in the dungeon. That wasn't in her own best interests," he pointed out although he was loathe to bring up the subject.

"No, but refusing to marry Gaston even when I was in danger of being thrown into the asylum was," Maurice retorted. "I'm glad she did that: I could not have lived knowing she was forced into such a thing because of me. Gaston had demanded her heart, soul, body, and mind. You only wanted her presence in exchange for mine. That's quite a large difference, especially in Belle's mind. Besides, after spending all that time with you, she seemed to have a firmer grasp at what she wanted in life. Finding the strength to deny Gaston like that, with so much at stake, took a courage and a knowledge of herself even I didn't know she had." Adam nodded but suddenly felt ill. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to go through with this.

"Don't worry my boy," Maurice said and reached up to place a hand on Adam's shoulder. "Belle loves you. I've never seen her so happy as I have when she's with you. I do have one request though." Adam watched as Maurice went to the workbench at the back of the room, moved a few items around, and reached back to grab something hidden. He returned to where Adam waited, his hands cupped around the item.

"Would you give Belle this when you ask her?" Adam carefully took the offered item and examined the small box Adam suspected was made my Maurice himself. Realizing what Maurice had just given him, Adam opened the lid to reveal a dainty silver ring with a single small diamond in its center. It was simple, but very elegant and Adam felt a smile creep across his face as he pictured it on Belle's finger.

"It was her mother's," Maurice explained, though Adam had already guessed that. "I understand if you already picked out another. . ." Maurice began hastily, but Adam interrupted him.

"No, this one is perfect. Thank you," he said, feeling his gratitude well up from deep inside himself, almost overwhelming him.

"Of course, my boy." Maurice's voice cracked and Adam looked away from Maurice's tears.

"I should go put this somewhere Belle won't find it," Adam said uncomfortably.

"Of course, of course," Maurice said with a sniff. "Go on now and let me get back to work. And good luck, my boy." Adam nodded, feeling his stomach twist once again into nervous knots, and left the workroom.

Belle's POV

Belle came in from working in the garden, washed up, and went in search of Adam in good spirits. He wasn't in the study as he said he would be, so Belle ventured up to the West Wing thinking perhaps he had taken his books up there. She and Adam had studied there before; perhaps Adam found it a more comfortable environment.

She knocked on the massive door, uncomfortable about entering Adam's rooms without his permission, at least now that the mystery of the West Wing had been solved some time ago. There was no answer. Becoming slightly frustrated, she decided to check the library in the unlikely event Adam would be there by himself. Though Belle had opened up Adam's mind to books and stories and often read himself now, Adam would rarely visit the library without her. More often than not, she would find him reading in his favorite armchair in the lounge. She would check there, too, but the library was closest.

She never got that far, however. As she climbed back down the steps from the West Wing, she spotted Adam walking down the hall towards her.

"There you are!" she exclaimed and Adam jumped, clearly not expecting her to be there. As she climbed down the remaining steps and closed the distance between them, she noticed Adam hastily shove something into his pocket.

"Belle! I-I thought you were still in the garden," he stammered nervously.

Belle looked at him curiously, but only said, "I just came in a few minutes ago. You asked me to find you, remember?"

"Y-yes. Did you have a good time?" Belle nodded and her confusion at Adam's behavior grew as she noticed a blush creep over his cheeks.

"Are you feeling all right?" she asked.

"Fine," he replied quickly. "Do you want to meet in the library in a few minutes?"

"Why can't we just go now?" she asked. This was getting very odd, indeed. Why was Adam acting so strangely?

"Because. . .because I've torn my trousers. I got them caught on your father's machine."

"Weren't you going to study?" she asked, slightly disappointed but not surprised that Adam ignored his obligation to remember the laws of the land.

"I couldn't concentrate," he blurted. Belle suspected there was more going on than what Adam was telling her, but she didn't press the issue.

"All right, I'll meet you in the library in a few minutes," she agreed and started to walk away. She turned a moment later though to watch Adam's hasty retreat and noticed no obvious holes in his trousers. Very curious, she thought to herself and continued on her way to the library.

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