Belle suppressed a smile as the children sat captivated in front of her. She was reading a rather long tale to them and had been worried they wouldn't like to sit still for so long, but she had been very wrong. Apparently the tale of Robin Hood was as fascinating to the children as it had been for Belle.
She enjoyed reading to the children that occupied the castle; sometimes Belle felt that it had to be very dull for them to spend aimless hours while their parents worked. Although Belle could also understand the attraction of being able to run through the halls, finding secret passageways and unused rooms. They seemed to get along with each other well enough and Belle could see that they had created a sort of family of their own; they were each the other's brother or sister, whether it was by blood or not.
"What about Maid Marian?" one of the girls, Vivian, asked earnestly as Belle finished the story she had been reading from the collection of Robin Hood tales.
"They get married, stupid," one of the boys retorted.
"Philip, we don't say things like that," Belle scolded. "Now apologize."
"Sorry," Philip grunted. "But they do, don't they?"
"Get married? You'll have to wait and see now, won't you?" Belle replied.
"I think they do," Chip put in. "Like Belle and the Master will, right Belle?"
"I really couldn't say, Chip," Belle replied after a moment spent recovering from so direct a question to her heart. "He hasn't asked me yet."
"Why not?" several of the children chimed. That was a question Belle herself had been asking for quite some time now.
"I suppose it's because he's been busy with his uncle," she replied hastily, eager to move on from this uncomfortable topic. "Now run along and play. You shouldn't be inside on a day like today." A few of them groaned, clearly eager to have this question answered, but they allowed themselves to be shooed out of the library.
As soon as she was alone in the massive room, Belle sat heavily on the cushions of window seat, mentally exhausted and very confused. Why hadn't Adam asked her to marry him? She was trying to be patient, but it had been over a month since the enchantment was broken and the children were not the only ones to be asking questions. Estelle especially had not been shy about mentioning things like what Belle's wedding gown should look like.
It was a very eventful month for both Belle and Adam, she reasoned. The timing is all wrong, she told herself, but she couldn't make herself believe it.
And, well. . .Adam had been acting very peculiar lately. Yesterday Belle noticed how Adam couldn't get away fast enough with some odd story about a tear in his trousers and her mind flashed back to the moment where he had hid something from her in his pocket. And he even admitted to being with her father that day, too. Her heart began to beat faster in excitement, but she quickly quelled it, certain she was seeing clues where there were none. She stood with a sudden determination to visit her father, trying to convince herself that it had nothing to do with her wanting to find out why Adam had been there yesterday in his jacket and good trousers.
"Papa?" she called as she entered his workroom. "Papa are you here?"
"Belle?" Her father emerged from underneath his machine. "I thought you'd be in the garden today. It's so beautiful outside."
"I was just reading to the children," she explained. "And what about you, cooped up in this room every day?"
"Oh, I get out, don't you worry. Have you seen Adam today?"
"I—no, I haven't. Why do you ask?"
"No reason." Belle raised an eyebrow at him, but he only smiled and turned back to his machine.
"He said he was down here yesterday," Belle started conversationally, stepping forward to idly spin a gear on the machine.
"Yes, he was," he confirmed, his voice muffled from beneath the machine's bulk. "We got to talking about some improvements on this hunk of junk." Belle smiled at this familiar phrase used for almost every invention her father worked on. She wasn't entirely convinced what he said about Adam was the whole truth, but she knew she wouldn't be able to get much else from her father while he was working.
"I'll see you later, Papa," she called over the noise of his tools.
"Bye, Belle!" he called, never ceasing his work.
Belle left the workroom more confused than ever. Adam had been down to see her father but, if her father was to be believed, it was only to help his work. Belle shook her head and again tried to stifle the irrational bubble of excitement that grew in her stomach. She retreated to the library with the intent of taking a book outside to read in the warm spring sunlight. Perhaps she would ask Adam to come with her. Surely seeing him calm and acting no differently than usual would ease her wild ideas.
"There you are," Adam's voice met her as she approached the library doors. He stepped out of the shadow of the doorway and Belle stopped walking, surprised to see Adam dressed in a rather dashing deep green coat she had not seen before. Though Adam never looked quite disheveled, except when he had been working with her father, Belle noticed that he seemed especially well groomed now.
"Hello," she greeted him warmly. "I was just coming to pick a book to read outside. Would you like to join me?"
"Well, actually I was just coming to see if you would like me to take you to the large gardens behind the castle," he replied.
"Oh, yes please!" she exclaimed, excited to at last be seeing the gardens. She could have gone a number of times herself, of course, but somehow she felt that this was a place she wanted to share with someone. Besides, she had heard that the gardens were a maze of flowers and bushes and she had no ambition of being the fool who got lost among them. Adam grinned and offered his arm to her which she willingly took. The fabric of the jacket was soft against her skin and she longed to rest her cheek against it. That would have made walking a bit difficult, however, so she restrained herself.
"You look nice today," she commented after a moment of silent walking through the castle.
"Thank you," he responded, but said nothing more. As they drew near the doors that would lead them outside to the gardens Belle had only seen covered in snow, she felt Adam begin to tremble. Adam released her arm to open the door for her and Belle took the opportunity to examine his face. His expression was set into one of determination, but he looked rather pale. Again, not quite inexplicably, her stomach began to flutter in excitement.
"This is it, Master," Lumiere exclaimed excitedly as he helped Adam into a handsome forest green jacket. "How do you feel?"
"Sick," Adam grunted. He did indeed feel very nauseous at what he was about to do. Was he supposed to feel this way?
"Good!" Cogsworth cheered.
"Good?" Adam couldn't believe the response he was getting.
"Yes, Master. That means you are worried about the outcome!"
"Of course I'm worried about the outcome!" he snapped impatiently. He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm just so nervous. What if she says no?"
Cogsworth looked helplessly at Lumiere, so Adam turned to the man who had helped him through nearly every romantic obstacle Adam had come across.
"Do you love her, Master?" he asked gently.
"With all my heart."
"What would you do to make her happy?
"Anything," he said quickly. "Anything at all."
"Then how do you know this will not make her happy?"
"Yes, but what if it doesn't?" he moaned.
"If I may say, Master," Cogsworth started. "Even I have seen how Belle lights up when she's with you."
"I'm supposed to make the flame jokes, my friend," Lumiere joked.
"Yes, yes, of course," Cogsworth chuckled. "The point is, if she didn't love you, we wouldn't have gotten out of the curse. What more proof could you ask for?"
"A 'yes,'" Adam replied, though he felt some of his fear ebb at Cogsworth's words. Of course Belle loved him, for the reason Cogsworth pointed out, but also for the warmth Adam saw in Belle's eyes whenever she looked at him. It was the same warmth he felt when he was in her presence.
He straightened up, adjusted his jacket, and took a deep breath. "All right," he said. "I'm ready."
"Good luck, Master," Lumiere said, handing him the tiny box that concealed Belle's mother's ring. Adam glanced quickly inside the box to make sure the ring was still there before putting safely in the pocket inside his jacket.
The walk down to the library unnerved Adam, but he was able to snatch a few moments to compose himself when he found Belle was not, in fact, in the library. Belle approached the library not long after, allowing him only a minute to himself. Adam was stunned for a moment as he watched his (hopefully) future bride approach. She was so beautiful he almost couldn't breathe; the soft pink of her dress bringing out the delicate flush in her cheeks and the sleeves that went only to her elbows showed her fair skin. He took another deep breath to quiet his suddenly wildly beating heart, greeted her, and escorted her successfully down to the garden.
As he approached the door that led outside, he felt himself begin to shake. In a matter of minutes, he would be faced with asking what probably would be the most important question of his life. Fortunately, Belle did not seem to notice his trembling, being too busy admiring the millions of flowers Adam had just presented to her. The gardens were quite beautiful, but he was unable to concentrate on anything except when the moment would arrive to ask the seemingly impossible question.
Belle was chatting merrily to him, pointing out the different types of flowers that surrounded them and admiring how beautiful everything was. Adam could respond with little more than nods in agreement, terrified that if he tried to speak, he would blurt out the question before he was ready for no other reason than he was going over and over it in his head to make sure it was exactly right.
As they approached a stretch of the path that was home to thousands of roses, Belle paused to take in their aroma and Adam knew this was it: this was the moment he had been waiting for.
Adam opened the door for her and Belle was momentarily breathless by what she saw just beyond the door. She recognized the basic structure of the garden with its low wall and stone patio that led into it, but now the stone wall was nearly covered in the reaching vines of a delicate purple flower. The previously shapeless, snow covered lumps that lay beyond the wall had transformed with the spring air into beautiful shrubs that marked the beginning of a white stone pathway. Beyond the crisp, spring green of the shrubs Belle could see the beckoning color of the flowers.
"Oh Adam, it's beautiful!" she cried in delight and led him eagerly along the path, pointing out the different types of flowers she noticed. She noticed that Adam hung back and seemed rather sullen, and suddenly she recalled how Adam had confessed how the flowers reminded him of the enchanted rose. He said he had worked passed it, but perhaps he had been a bit too optimistic about it.
"Adam, are you all right?" she asked. Adam looked at her and nodded with what Belle guessed was supposed to be a reassuring smile, but she wasn't entirely convinced. She was distracted from him, however, when she noticed what was just ahead of them: seemingly endless garden beds and walls all lined with roses of every imaginable color.
She bent to the nearest blossom, a deep crimson rose with a wide, welcoming face. Its sweet scent washed over her and for a moment she couldn't remember why she had felt so nervous just a few moments ago. When she straightened up and found Adam suddenly standing quite close to her, however, she was vividly reminded of her anxiousness and inexplicably blushed.
"Belle," he began and reached up to tuck a strand of hair away from her forehead. She shivered at the warmth and nearness of him. "Belle, I love you."
"I love you, too," she replied, emotion filling her voice as she met his beautiful deep blue eyes.
"Are you happy here?" Belle smiled at the familiar question and was about to answer, but at the last moment decided to turn the question back on Adam.
"Are you happy?" she asked, placing a hand on his arm and stroking the soft fabric under her fingers.
"I—yes, I am," he replied, sounding surprised at this turn. "Don't you know how happy you make me? I never thought I'd find someone like you. You're so brave and kind. You pulled me out of a nightmare and showed me how good life can be." Belle felt herself blush as such a profound compliment. Though she didn't doubt Adam's sincerity, she found it hard to believe she had done all that. Adam seemed set on speaking, so she didn't interrupt to point this out. "I love you so much. I never thought it was possible for me to love someone as deeply as I do you." He trailed off and reached up to rub the back of his neck and, for one brief moment, Belle vividly saw her Beast standing before her, eager but so unsure of himself.
Although she had wished and hoped for such a thing, she was completely unprepared for what happened next. Adam sunk onto one knee before her and took her hands, looking up at her earnestly. He reached into his coat and drew out a small box that Belle quickly recognized as the one that held her mother's ring. Belle suddenly felt dizzy and her knees began to shake. Adam opened the lid, revealing the diamond ring inside and Belle gasped.
"Belle, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Would you. . .would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Adam took a breath and stepped towards Belle, knowing what he had to do but terrified that it might go awry. When Belle straightened up from the rose and looked at him, Adam was momentarily stunned as he looked into her kind, beautiful brown eyes. "Belle," he said, her name slipping passed his lips involuntarily as he gazed at her. Unable to help himself, he gently pushed back a strand of hair from her forehead and continued the sentence his heart had started for him. "Belle, I love you."
"I love you, too," she replied quickly and Adam's heart swelled at the emotion and honesty he heard in her voice. She seemed so content with him like this, but he knew he had to be sure before he asked the ever-important question.
"Are you happy here?" he asked, knowing he had asked before but needing the reassurance of her inevitably honest answer, whatever it might be.
"Are you happy?" she said and placed a hand on his arm. Adam's eyes widened in surprise; he had never really considered his own happiness before. Everything he had done since. . .well since he had let Belle go the night he had shown her the magic mirror, had been for her. Even taking his place as Prince had been because Belle had shown him that it was right. But as Adam gazed at Belle, so beautiful and so gentle, he had no doubt of the answer.
"I—yes, I am. Don't you know how happy you make me?" His words began to flow from his heart of their own accord, speaking truths he never had the courage to say before. "I never thought I'd find someone like you. You're so good and kind. You pulled me out of a nightmare and showed me how good life can be. I love you so much. I never thought it was possible for me to love someone as deeply as I do you." Knowing what had to come next, but alternately terrified and elated by it, he knelt at Belle's feet and took her hands. He understood at least one reason why the man must kneel while proposing: it was less likely he would fall over with fright when he asked the terrifying question.
Remembering the box just in time, he drew it from the pocket inside his coat, reluctantly releasing Belle's hands to do so. He opened its small lid and heard Belle gasp. Steeling himself, he looked back up at Belle. He and Lumiere had practiced the question Adam was about to ask over and over again, but as Adam gazed up at Belle, at his love, what he said next came from his own heart. "Belle, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Would you. . .would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
There was a pause the span of half of heartbeat but what felt to Adam to be as long as a century.
"Yes! Yes, of course I will!" Belle exclaimed and Adam's heart threatened to burst with overwhelming joy. Nothing, not the end of the enchantment, nor even the first kiss he and Belle shared, could come close to the elation he felt at the knowledge that Belle had agreed to marry him.
Adam stood and pulled Belle into a long kiss, cupping the back of her head gently to pull her closer to him. But that wasn't enough for him, so he wrapped his arms around Belle's waist, still keeping her in the kiss, and twirled her around. He felt her arms wrap around his neck for support, but did not break the kiss until he placed her safely on the ground again and Adam felt Belle's lips curve into a smile.
"I love you," he said as they broke barely a hands breath away, hoping Belle wouldn't tire of hearing those words, for he never grew tired of saying them.
"I love you, too," she replied and kissed him again.
"Oh, I suppose you can have this now," he said, remembering the tiny box in his hand that held the ever-important ring. He delicately plucked the ring out of its place and presented it to Belle who obligingly held out her left hand. Adam paused for half a moment, afraid that he might place it on the wrong finger, but Belle subtly moved the third finger and Adam nearly laughed. He suppressed the urge and placed the ring on Belle's finger. He was right; the ring looked perfect there.
"This was my mother's," she breathed.
"Your father gave it to me," he explained and kissed the hand he had just placed the ring on. "Is that all right?"
"Of course. I just can't believe. . . you really do want to marry me?"
Adam couldn't help but chuckle. Apparently he had successfully stunned her. "I know it's taken me longer than it should have, but yes, Belle, I want to spend my life with you." Belle looked up from the diamond that now decorated her finger to gaze into his eyes. Adam drew her into another kiss, and there were no more words between them for quite a long while.