A Change In Me

Chapter 36

Adam entered the stables and was immediately met with the smell of hay and manure. It filled his nose and stopped him in his tracks as he the vivid memory of his first visit to the stables flooded his mind.

He was seven years old and had been promised his first horse. He had been begging for one for over a year, insisting that he was old enough to ride as his father did. His mother woke him the morning of his seventh birthday, saying that there was a surprise for him in the stables. Knowing immediately what it would be, he leapt from his bed and danced about as his mother and a servant tried to get him dressed, too eager to hold still.

He never went in the stables; it was a place for servants and animals, not for princes, but today was different. His mother led him by the hand to the doors of the stables where his father waited, tall and straight in his usual somber, dark suit of clothes. As they approached, his father shifted his gaze from somewhere in the horizon to his son. Adam could distinctly remember often being frightened by those dark eyes that so frequently held anger in them. But that day his father's gaze was almost warm.

"Close your eyes," he heard his mother say as they approached the doors to the stables. Adam did as he was told, though he peeked once as he heard the doors creak open. "All right, darling. Open them!"

Adam opened his eyes, ready to see his massive war charger waiting for him, but instead there was only a small black pony.

"A—a pony?" he asked, his little heart sinking.

"A horse you can manage who will grow with you," his father corrected. "It is a great thing to grow up with your horse. You two will form a bond unlike any other, if you take care of him properly as a Prince should. I had my own horse since he was a foal."

Adam recalled his father's noble chestnut stallion and a grin spread across his face. His very own horse! He ran up to the foal, eager to pet it, but it shied away from him.

"Gentle, Adam," his mother cautioned. "You must earn his trust first."

"How?" he whined, impatient to ride his new horse.

"By spending time with him," his father replied, gently pushed Adam forward a few steps, and shut the stable doors behind him, leaving Adam alone with his new horse.

Adam loved that horse; after a full day spent in the stables grooming and getting to know his horse, whom he named Midnight for his coat, he was rarely apart from the animal. It became the dearest companion for a boy with no other friends, someone to talk to when his father wouldn't listen and to escape with for a few hours when the castle became too stifling to bear any longer. When his mother and sister died a year later, it was into Midnight's mane where he cried the tears he couldn't let his father see.

But when the awful night came when Adam was turned into a Beast, Midnight was no solace. The young horse was terrified of the animal that invaded his stall seeking nothing more than the friend a lonely boy once knew. The newly created Beast realized at that moment that he was no longer Adam, now that his dearest companion no longer recognized him. The Beast chased out all the horses that night, giving them freedom from the monster that now ruled the castle. He watched until Midnight's flanks disappeared into the trees beyond the castle's grounds and then the Beast was truly alone.

Adam sat upon a convenient bucket that had been turned upside down, overwhelmed by the memories that tortured his mind. His heart ached painfully as he saw again in his mind's eye his beloved horse disappearing forever into the trees.

"Adam?" Belle's voice drew his attention back to the present. Adam looked towards the sound of her voice and his heart leapt at the sight of the beautiful woman who truly loved him, who had somehow managed to conquer his lonely and broken heart. He stood and went to her eagerly, lifting her up by the waist and twirling her once in a circle, rewarded by hearing her laugh.

"Well you're in a good mood," she commented merrily as he put her down again.

"Are you ready to go?" he asked, setting aside the comment of his mood which had been bleak just moments ago, focusing instead on the happiness of his present world he never thought would be possible.

"Mhm. Mrs. Potts packed us a lunch for the ride. But are you sure it's all right we're away from the castle the same time Cogsworth is gone?"

"I'm sure. My uncle is still away, there's no sign of anything at all from the court, and everything has been going fine in the castle. Besides, you've been wanting to ride, haven't you?"

Belle needed no further prodding, it seemed. She grinned at him excitedly and fairly bounded to her horse waiting in a stable a few feet down from where they stood. Adam grinned at her enthusiasm and followed her, shooing the stable hands away as they stepped forward to help. He thought to offer his help saddling the great horse himself, but before he could, Belle took up the saddle herself in her slender arms and heaved it over the great horse's back in a clearly well practiced manner. Amazed by this, Adam could only chuckle and move on to the horse in the stall to the right. This horse was one of those who had pulled the wagons laden with the cottage's belongings; it was hardly the elegant charger Midnight had been, but he seemed a good horse and up to Philippe's long stride.

"Ready?" Belle asked, standing outside the stall with Philippe's reigns in her hand.

"Um. . ." He trailed off as he realized Belle had bridled and saddled Philippe in the time it took him to open the stall door. "Just another minute," he said and did his best to hurry. It had been a long time since he had saddled a horse, though, and took him nearly twice as long to do as it had for Belle. "All right, let's go," he said finally, embarrassed that it had taken him as long as it had to simply saddle a horse.

"Hang on," Belle said and joined him in the stall. She adjusted the saddle a bit, tightening the girth of the saddle quickly. "There," she said simply and returned to her own horse.

"Thanks," he said, his embarrassment heightening though he knew she had not done so on purpose. "This should be interesting. I haven't ridden since before I was. . . well, since before," he finished lamely and led the horse out of its stall and outside. Belle drew level with him and caught his eye. She smiled at him understandingly, as she always did when he felt so uncertain.

"You'll remember soon enough. We'll just take it slow at first," she said and led Philippe passed him. Adam watched her go for a moment, adoring how she was so certain of him when he could not find confidence in himself. She mounted her horse, gliding upwards gracefully in a wave of green skirts. Adam grinned, realizing that Belle sat astride her horse, not sidesaddle as other ladies would.

"What?" Belle asked when she caught his gaze.

"Nothing," he said quickly, dropping his eyes but not his smile, and prepared himself to mount his own horse. He jumped once, twice, and managed to scramble up and onto the saddle. When he was safely situated, he took hold of the reigns and straightened up, feeling his shaky confidence growing as his body recalled that he had done this before. Cautiously, he moved his mount forward, feeling the horse shift underneath him. Smiling, he provoked the horse into a trot, circling around Belle who laughed and turned in her saddle to watch him prance about foolishly.

"I see you remember better than you thought," she said between giggles. Rather than answering her directly, Adam grinned mischievously at Belle and pushed his horse into a gallop. As he hoped, he heard Philippe's hooves behind him as Belle sent her horse into a gallop to chase him. She drew level with him and then, with a coy smile at him, she flew passed him. Adam paused in surprise but quickly pushed his horse in attempts to catch up with her. But Belle was clearly the better rider and easily outstripped him. It was only when Belle stopped at the edge of the great fields they rode across that Adam was able to catch up.

"I win," she declared merrily as he drew closer to her, breathless from the ride.

"You're good," he consented, gasping a bit himself.

"And you're better than you thought. Would you like to try again?" she said with a grin, clearly enjoying the sport. Adam turned his horse away from the trees that lined the grounds, ready for another race. But he turned his horse too quickly and the horse protested by rearing. Adam wasn't prepared for this and was too far out of practice to stay in the saddle. His gripped slipped and he was sent crashing to the ground, landing hard flat on his back. The impact drove the breath from his lungs and he lay stunned for a moment.

"Adam!" he heard Belle cry and she slid from her saddle to kneel beside him. By the time she reached him though, Adam was able to get air back into his lungs and assess that he was not hurt. He looked up at Belle's concerned, beautiful face and couldn't help but pull her towards him, supporting her in one arm while he turned over so she was lying in the grass and he could lean over her instead. He smiled at her gasp of surprise and leaned down to kiss her.

"You really have changed," she said when their lips parted. "The Beast, and even the Adam I knew a few weeks ago, would never have done anything like that."

"I—I'm sorry, did I—" he started, suddenly afraid he had done something wrong.

"No," she interrupted. "You're learning who you are, and you're getting more confident. I'm certainly not complaining."

"Good," he chuckled and kissed her again. He hadn't realized he had been changing even since the enchantment was broken; it was just so comfortable to be with Belle, his uncertainty was simply unnecessary while he was around her and it seemed to have melt away without his notice.

"Would you like to stop and eat here?" she asked, still trapped underneath him.

"Already?"

"It's past noon, Adam. We took a while getting the horses ready, and riding here took longer than you think. Now let me up so we can get set up," she directed, pushing lightly on his chest. Adam complied, helping Belle to her feet. She went to go to her saddlebags, but Adam stopped her, wanting to do something for her.

So he took out the blanket he found inside and spread it on the ground, smoothing it out as Belle might like. He then took out the packets of food and arranged them on the blanket.

"Here, if we put rocks in the corners of the blanket, it won't blow away in the wind," Belle suggested, picking up a stone and placing in the corner nearest her.

"Good idea," he agreed, finding three more stones to hold the blanket in place and rejoining Belle on the blanket. They left the horses to graze nearby, both too well mannered to wander far. For several minutes they were both occupied with dividing the food and Adam figuring out how to eat it.

"You've never eaten outside like this before, have you?" Belle asked and Adam got the impression she was laughing at his attempts to feed himself without a flat surface to balance on.

"No," he grunted, inexplicably embarrassed by this. To his surprise, Belle giggled. "What's so funny?" he asked, trying to be insulted but knowing she meant no harm.

"Nothing. It's just. . .every once in a while, no matter how much you've changed, a little bit of the Beast comes out in you."

"I'm sorry. I've tried to. . ." he began, horrified that the Beast should still make such evident appearances.

"You really don't understand, do you?" she interrupted him, putting his hand on his and looking at him in concern. "It was while you were the Beast that I fell in love with you. I can't help if I see that part of you every once in a while." Belle had told him something similar the day he had proposed to her, only eight days ago, but he still had a hard time believing such a thing.

"Ham?" he said, holding out the packet of cold ham he held. Belle sighed and gave him an expressive look as if to say she knew he was avoiding the subject, but took the food just the same.

Adam managed to eat a proper meal despite his struggle to balance it in his lap. They packed up the remaining food and lounged idly, both unwilling to start back to the castle.

"I wonder how Cogsworth's day is going," Belle said, leaning back on her hands, feet outstretched, the picture of content.

"That's right, you sent him off, didn't you," Adam recalled. "I doubt he's managed to make it far. I don't think he'd know what to do with himself if he's not bossing someone around."

"Well, I've asked Mrs. Potts and Lumiere to help to keep him out of his own way. I just hope he manages to relax. He truly didn't look well." Adam could hear her concern in her voice.

"He'll be fine, don't worry. He enjoys it, I think, having too much to do. You remember when you first came here, how everyone was tripping over themselves trying to remember what they used to do with guests? Cogsworth never lost that; he always knew and tried to enforce the proper way to do things, even when there weren't things to be done." Adam unwillingly recalled those first few weeks when everyone struggled to adjust to their new forms, many without arms or legs. No matter how they grumbled or protested, Adam knew they were all grateful to Cogsworth for making them keep to their routines as best they could. They needed that normalcy in a world that had been turned upside-down. Adam was certainly no help to them, glowering in the West Wing, destroying everything he saw that reminded him of the life he had lost.

Adam drew himself out of his somber thoughts as he caught Belle's eye. He smiled, reminded himself that it was all just a horrible memory, and extended an arm to draw Belle close to him. She shifted towards him willingly and drew him irresistibly down until he was lying comfortably on the blanket, Belle's head on his chest. Adam's heart fluttered excitedly at having Belle so close. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and her hand went up to grasp at a fold in his shirt. They lay there together in silence for awhile, watching the clouds pass by above them.

"You know," Adam said after a few minutes. "We should start planning our wedding." Belle turned so she faced him, but remained lounged against his chest. Her smile at his words made his heart stop for a moment, its brilliance and sheer joy taking him by surprise. "That is, if you want," he added with a grin.

"More than anything," she said eagerly. "But I don't know where to start."

"Well, you'll want Nicole as part of your bridal party, I'm sure," he teased and laughed as Belle's smile dropped into a rare grimace.

"I suppose we'll have to invite her and her father, though," she said begrudgingly.

"I'm sure there's some sort of expectation about that my uncle hasn't told me about yet," he agreed. "But we can also invite Henry and his wife if she's feeling better. I'd like to keep our wedding small, but I think that's too much to ask for."

"Probably," she agreed, though she didn't seem too happy about it either.

"Our honeymoon will be just the two of us, though," he assured her.

"A—a honeymoon? Really?"

"I know it's not very common, at least that's what my uncle told me, but my parents did it and I think it would be a good excuse for me to see all those places I've told everyone I've been to. You wouldn't mind traveling around for a month or two, would you?" he asked, though he could guess at the answer. Belle had often talked of the places she read about in her books and, though of course many of them were fictional, places like Spain and Naples, and Scotland were easily visited.

"Really?" she said again, sitting up and smiling widely. "Where can we go?"

"Anywhere you'd like," he said, sitting up as well, smiling at her clear excitement. "Anywhere you've dreamed of going."

At these words, Belle dove into an animated account of every place she had wanted to go. Adam grinned and leaned back on his hands, happy to listen to her go on about the castles of England, the wide open fields of Scotland, and the mountains of Austria. His heart swelled with joy knowing he could give her this, that he was able to bring her to the places she had only visited in her dreams.

Belle was interrupted, though, when Philippe wandered over and gave her shoulder a gentle nudge with his nose, clearly impatient to be moving again. She giggled and pet his nose for a moment. "All right, Philippe, we'll go," she said to her horse. "We should get back before they start to worry," Belle said, this time to Adam. Though Adam wanted nothing more than to lie in the sun with Belle and listen to her talk of their adventures to come, he stood to pack up their things.

"You know, we still haven't decided anything about the wedding," Adam realized as he mounted his horse, much more easily than last time.

"We'll have plenty of time to talk about it," she replied. "I'm sure Gustave will have a few things to say about what we should and shouldn't do. Perhaps we should wait until he gets back."

"Don't let him bully you into things you don't want," he cautioned as they began their slow journey back to the castle, remembering how Gustave had monopolized Adam's time when he first arrived. "No matter what, it's what you want that matters."

"What we want, she corrected, reaching across the space between their two horses to take his hand. "It's your wedding too, remember."

Adam gently squeezed Belle's hand, his heart soaring as he imagined the day they would become husband and wife.

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