Gustave was right: the Marquis and Nicole did not become any more agreeable during their stay. Adam managed to keep Belle from spending any more time alone with Nicole, at least. Belle had told him of their conversation in the parlor and Nicole's intentions to marry Adam no matter what. Adam was disgusted by the girl's persistence in the matter and her rudeness towards Belle.
What he really wanted to do was throw Nicole out for saying such horrible things, but he knew that to do so would ruin all that he and Gustave had done for Adam's standing. The Marquis could easily deny that Adam was who he claimed to be; though this could be proven quite easily through his portraits and Gustave's testimonial, it would make things more complicated than they needed to be.
Belle understood, as she always did when Adam could find the words to explain himself, and in return Adam could only make sure she was not subjected to Nicole's wrath by herself. He was little match for her, though. Nicole was forward and cunning, all but throwing herself at him. Adam had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior and, though he had absolutely no intention of condoning Nicole's behavior, he didn't know how to go about stopping it. Many, many times Adam was tempted to give in to his barely suppressed temper if only to get the girl to stop hanging on his arm. But the results would be disastrous, and so Adam held out, waiting for the calm hours he could spend alone with Belle after the Marquis' daughter went to bed.
At last, the week was over, perhaps one of the longest weeks in Adam's memory, and he and Belle gladly stood outside the doors of the castle to bid their guests goodbye. The Marquis bowed to Adam and disappeared into his gilded carriage as quickly as possible. Clearly the Marquis had not enjoyed his stay, either. But his daughter lingered in front of Adam, smiling coyly at him. Adam did his best to keep his face in an expression of polite attention as she spoke of her next visit to the castle.
"I should so like to get to know you better, Your Highness," she finished with a curtsy and held her hand out. Adam took it and bent over it as was proper, but did not kiss it as Nicole so clearly expected.
"Perhaps, if we are lucky, the next time you come will be for my marriage to Lady Belle," he said, knowing it would irk Nicole to hear the words 'my,' 'marriage,' and 'Belle' in the same sentence.
"Of—of course, Your Highness," she said hesitantly and Adam saw the last glimmering, horrid hope in her eyes fade. Without another word, and with absolutely no acknowledgement to Belle, Nicole disappeared within the carriage where her father waited.
"You've done well, Your Highness," the Comte said, lingering at the last. "Don't think I buy your story of all this traveling for one moment, not that it matters. But I am glad you've returned to us."
"T-thank you," Adam stammered, wondering what the Comte could be thinking Adam was hiding from him.
"I hope to see you again soon, my dear," the Comte moved to say goodbye to Belle.
"Thank you, Henry. Please send my greetings to your wife. I'd like to meet her," Belle said, taking the Comte's outstretched hand warmly.
"I will, my lady. Thank you for your hospitality." With one last bow, the Comte climbed into the carriage.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," Gustave said quickly. "I've just got to see that our work wasn't all for nothing and that the rest of the court accepts the Marquis and Comte's decision. You'll have to see them soon, of course, but I'm hoping to put that off until you and Belle are married to make things simpler for them. Perhaps when I return we can begin to plan your wedding?" Adam nodded eagerly and took Belle's hand, thrilling at the idea of becoming hers for the rest of his life. Gustave nodded and joined the nobles in the carriage. Minutes later, the carriage and its retinue were out of sight amongst the trees.
Adam sighed in relief and sunk down to sit on the steps, unable to stand any longer once the pressures of the week were finally gone. Belle joined him, leaning back on her arms and tilting her head to soak in the sun's warm rays.
Adam watched her in silence for a moment as the servants, assembled to bid the nobles an honorable farewell, filed back inside. His eyes followed the pale arch of her neck to the line of her jaw and up into the dark waves of her hair that shimmered in the sunlight. The stress of the week had kept him from spending the time he wished to with Belle, but he was infinitely grateful that it was she who stood by his side and not Nicole. He shivered as he thought how, had the Enchantress not intervened, Adam might have been a perfect match for that self-important girl.
"What is it?" Belle asked, opening her eyes and looking back at him.
"Just glad that I'm not marrying Nicole," he said. Belle smiled and moved so her hand was on top of his.
"Me too," she agreed and Adam noticed the sparkle of her ring as it caught the sun's rays.
"You were wonderful this week," he said, sitting up straighter and taking hold of her hand. "Thank you for everything you did. I know it wasn't easy."
"It wasn't for you, either," she reminded him. "Hopefully the next time we see the Marquis and Nicole, it will be in a crowd."
"Where we can easily avoid them," he agreed with a chuckle.
"I did like the Comte though," she continued. "I'd like to invite him and his wife up again. I think Papa would like him, too. He's got to come out of his workroom at some point, and I think they would be the perfect transition for him into this sort of life."
"You don't think the Marquis would be?" he teased. "You can invite whomever you like here, Belle. This is your home, you said so yourself." Belle smiled and turned her face back to the sun.
"It's so nice out now," she said, her voice slightly strained through her tilted throat.
"We could go on that picnic you wanted," Adam suggested, remembering their walk to the small, soggy garden weeks ago.
"I'd like that. Not today, though. Today we need to recuperate and remember that not everyone is as horrid as Nicole."
"She really did bother you, didn't she?" Adam felt horrible at exposing Belle to such people for his own reasons. It would have been one thing if she had met them at some sort of social gathering where Adam could not have prevented it, but the Marquis and Nicole came only because of Adam.
"I think it's because she reminded me so much of. . .of Gaston," she admitted, moving to hug her arms around her knees. "They're both so. . .so full of themselves it's astonishing. Neither of them think much of what women can do, either. Even Nicole thinks all we're good for is planning parties."
"That's stupid," he said bluntly. "I guess it's true that I relied on you to put together that celebration for the end of the enchantment, but that's only because I'm horrible at that sort of thing. You are much more intelligent than that; I hope you realize that. You could probably rule the lands better than I ever could." He spoke candidly and honestly, disgusted that Nicole should say such things and hoping Belle wouldn't get the wrong idea of what was might be 'expected' of her. "I don't expect anything from you," he said, repeating his thoughts aloud. "You know you can be as involved as you want to be in anything you wish, or not at all."
"I know. It just took me by surprise hearing her say that. I expected it from primeval men like Gaston, but not from a girl who has the opportunity to do so much."
"She's just a child, maybe she'll come to her senses," Adam reasoned, though he seriously doubted it.
"We should go put the servants at ease," she said, standing up and brushing off her dress. "I know at least Estelle was quite upset by Nicole and her lady's maid."
"Hang on," he said, standing up himself and catching hold of Belle's hand as she began to walk away. He drew her gently towards him and wrapped his arms around her, so close he could hear her breathing. "I love you," he said softly, looking into the familiar dark pools of her eyes, still filled with the memories of the past week and of a horrible, misogynistic man who still haunted her dreams.
Belle smiled and Adam watched the last of the frustration and sadness leave Belle's eyes. She raised her face to his and he leaned down to kiss her, feeling their lips meet in a familiar moment of joy.
"I love you, too," she said as they parted, but Adam was not ready to let her lips free so soon.
After she and Adam had gone to thank the servants and soothe their wounded pride, especially those of Cogsworth and Lumiere, Belle decided she should go down to see her father. He had made good on his determined statement to disappear while the nobles were visiting, so Belle had barely seen him at all that week. But Belle entered the workroom only to find that her father was not there.
"That's funny," she said aloud to herself, her voice echoing in the massive, silent room. She could almost always find her father down in his workroom tinkering on his latest invention or even something in the castle that was in need of repair. Curious at where he could've gone, Belle left the workroom and went in search of him.
She was a bit at a loss at where to look for him; he never ventured very far between his room and the workroom, but now he was in neither of those two places. None of the servants she met on her search seemed to know where he was, either.
"I do recall Mrs. Potts mentioning bringing some lunch to your father," Cogsworth said when Belle came across him. "That could have been yesterday, though. Goodness this week has completely gotten away from me!"
"Maybe you should try to relax," Belle suggested, unable to keep from noticing how high strung he seemed. More than usual, that is. Belle knew that Cogsworth hardly breathed without finding something to worry over, or quarreling with Lumiere, but with their recent guests Cogsworth had truly begun to concern Belle.
"No time, no time. What with the wedding and Adam's reinstatement as Prince, there's so much to do!"
"Well the wedding won't be for a while yet, so please promise me you'll take some time to relax. I insist," she said, trying to make her words hold weight with Cogsworth. He would worry himself to death over all the work he gave himself; if only he trusted the others to help him more.
"When there is time, mademoiselle," he said dismissively.
"Tomorrow," she retaliated. "I'll arrange it with Adam and see that Lumiere and Mrs. Potts know what to expect. Go into town or walk along the grounds, anything that you would like to do that does not concern anything about the castle."
"I—I haven't. . .I don't know. . ."
"Well, then you best figure that out before tomorrow," she said with a smile and left Cogsworth utterly flabbergasted. Belle doubted very much that Cogsworth had ever had a day off in his life, but it was about time he did.
But she was still no closer to finding her father.
She had almost given up after almost an hour of searching when she passed the door to one of the smaller sitting rooms and heard her father's laugh behind it. Belle paused, not wanting to disturb whoever it was her father was talking to, but she had come such a long way to find him. And, if she was honest with herself, she was curious as to who was in there with him. She knocked and opened the door to have her suspicions confirmed: Mrs. Potts was sitting across from her father, wiping her eyes as she fought to control her laughter.
"Belle!" he father exclaimed when he noticed her.
"Hello," she greeted, trying to suppress a smile of delight at seeing the two of them together. "You two seem to be having fun. I don't want to interrupt, I only was looking for you, Papa."
"Maggie was just telling me about the little Marquess," her father said as Belle drew up a chair.
"It's my name, dear," Mrs. Potts pointed our with a small smile. "Though heaven knows no one uses it."
"Why not? It's a lovely name," Belle recovered quickly. Oddly enough, it had never occurred to Belle that Mrs. Potts might have ever been called by anything else, except by Chip of course, who called her 'Mamma.'
"No one ever calls the housekeeper by her first name. I haven't been called Maggie here since my husband died. I almost forgot what it was." Belle's father chuckled and Belle grinned. She was glad that Mrs. Potts and Papa had grown into a first-name relationship, but Belle could not help feeling a little odd at calling the motherly woman anything but 'Mrs. Potts.'
"How did you get along with the prissy little thing?" Papa asked, clearly set on finding out everything he could about the visiting nobles.
"Oh, Nicole you mean? I, for one, am not exactly looking forward to seeing her again," Belle said, trying to keep the distain from her voice but not quite able to.
"Was she really that bad?" her father asked, clearly concerned for his daughter. "You can usually get along with almost anyone."
"She was awful, Papa. If you could imagine anyone as awful as Gaston, all his vanity and arrogance wrapped up into the body of a sixteen year old girl, that is Nicole. And she's so determined to marry Adam, so sure that I won't want to stay with him once I understand what's in store for me. Well, I know what difficulties I'll face, but I'll face them together with Adam," she finished determinedly, growing angry at the memory of Nicole's horrible words.
"Well there's no hope for that silly girl," Mrs. Potts said with a nod of certainty.
"Not from what I've seen. That boy would do anything for you," her father put in and Belle felt herself blush.
"Goodness, I should get back to work," Mrs. Potts said suddenly, rising from her chair reluctantly.
"Stay, won't you?' Belle's father asked. "The castle won't fall without you."
"It might," Belle laughed. "But you should stay anyway. I'll see that everything runs smoothly, don't worry."
"But, Belle I just can't. . ."Mrs. Potts started but Belle interrupted her.
"Papa could use the company, I think. You're always cooped up in that workroom, you know," she added to her father. "I'd be impressed if you could keep him out for a while longer."
"Maggie is perfectly capable of deciding what she wants to do, Belle," her father scolded.
"Actually, I'd love the excuse to sit for awhile," Mrs. Potts said. "There'll be so much to do in a few weeks. I'd like to enjoy the calm before the storm."
"Oh, that reminds me, I'm giving Cogsworth the day off tomorrow. When I saw him a few minutes ago he didn't look well."
"I'm afraid you'll have a hard time getting him to take it," Mrs. Potts put in. "But I'll tell Lumiere about it and between the two of us we'll get him to relax."
"I'd appreciate that, thank you. It seems odd having to force someone into taking a day to himself, but he really does need it. I'll leave you two alone and I'll make sure everything's going as it should downstairs," she said , trying to hid her pleasure at how well her father and Mrs. Potts were getting along. She couldn't remember seeing her father so happy since her mother was alive, and Belle was glad that it was someone as kind and good as Mrs. Potts who filled that void for him.
Belle made her way down to the kitchen as she promised to make sure everything was running smoothly. The servants were used to her visits by now, no longer protesting that Belle should wash dishes with them, so only a few glanced up as Belle entered the swinging doors. Belle loved the bustle of the kitchen, the cook and her kitchen maids bouncing around, servants gathering and dispersing through other doors that led to other halls on their way to do their chores. This was the heart of the castle, the place where the castle came to life.
"Bonjour, mademoiselle," Lumiere greeted her as he walked through another doorway to Belle's left. "What can I do for you?"
"I was just seeing if there's anything I could do to help. Mrs. Potts is with Papa and I didn't want anything to disturb them."
"Oh la la! It is good to see Mrs. Potts enjoying life again!"
"Definitely," Belle agreed wholeheartedly. "Papa's been so lonely, I'm glad they've found each other."
"Mais oui, ma cherie. I believe the only thing that has yet to be done is prepare the Master's meal, since you have come all the way down here to ask."
"Just the Master's?" Belle prodded, certain the way Lumiere singled out Adam he had something up his sleeve.
"Well, I had thought to send up a tray to your father, now that I know he is with our Mrs. Potts."
"You are a bit devious, you know," Belle said merrily.
"I just enjoy love, ma cherie," Lumiere replied.
"And it is one of your greatest qualities," she finished with a warm smile. "I'll take that tray up to Adam, since I'm sure that's what you had planned when you saw me here."
"But of course, mademoiselle!" And so, minutes later, two trays were set, one to go up to Mrs. Potts and her father, the other for Belle to bring up for herself and Adam.
"If there's anything pressing to be done and Mrs. Potts has not grown tired of Papa, come see me first," Belle instructed just before she left.
"Of course," Lumiere agreed and Belle made her way up to the West Wing where Adam was dutifully going over some plans Gustave had left for him.
Belle was so grateful to Gustave for helping Adam through the process of reclaiming his rightful place at Prince. It was brave of Adam to wish to rejoin the world after everything that had happened to him, but Belle could never have helped him with such a task alone. He had come so far though, and Belle could not be prouder of him. She smiled to herself as she pictured the uncertain Beast struggling to read Romeo and Juliet for her, walking with her through the grounds, learning how to dance again with her. He had changed so much since her first night in the castle, and changed even more so since the enchantment broke, becoming not just human, but a gentleman who could converse with nobles. But somehow, through all of that, he remained only her Adam, her Beast.
The doors of the West Wing stood before her, so she balanced the tray in one hand to knock on the door. The door opened moments later to reveal Adam.
"Hungry?" she asked, holding up the tray she held.
"Starving," he replied with a wide smile and opened the door wider to let her in, putting his arm comfortably around her waist as she passed him.