"Good morning, Cogsworth!" Belle greeted as she walked down the hall towards breakfast. She had been hoping to find out how Cogsworth's rare day off went and decided this would be the perfect opportunity.
"Good morning, mademoiselle," he returned the greeting with a wide smile. "Lovely day, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," she agreed, her own smile growing at the sight of Cogsworth actually looking happy. "Did you enjoy your day yesterday?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Oh, it was wonderful, wonderful my dear. I do appreciate your, uh suggestion for me to take some time." Belle giggled at Cogsworth's brushing over the fact that she practically forced him to take a day for himself.
"I'm glad to hear it. Perhaps you won't be so stubborn to take your next day. But I am a bit curious. Can I ask what you ended up doing?"
"Well, at first I was at a complete loss at what to do. Mrs. Potts made sure I stayed out of the kitchens, and Lumiere threw me out of nearly every room he found me in. Even the Master kept me from doing any work that morning before he left to go riding with you."
"Well, I had a feeling you would be a bit difficult, so I told the others to keep an eye out for you," she confessed with a guilty smile.
"Ah, well then I must say thank you, mademoiselle," Cogsworth said. "Without that push I would never have taken the day."
"I thought that might be the case," Belle laughed. "So what did you do?"
"Surely you're not interested in what I did," he dismissed.
"But I am," she insisted. "Unless you don't want to tell me. That's another thing altogether."
"Not at all. When I was fairly thrown out thanks to you," he started and Belle caught the humor in his voice. "I went for a walk, just around the grounds at first, then down the road."
"Not into the forest?" Belle asked, her mind jumping back to the last time she was alone in the forest when she was attacked by the pack of wolves. Of course, that had been during the winter when food was scarce for the wolves, but it was still dangerous to go there alone.
"No, goodness me! I didn't go that far. But I did find quite a lovely stream practically teeming with fish. So I simply stopped and fished for a while."
"Without a pole or line?" Belle asked. She might not have ever gone fishing, but she did know there was some equipment involved in the process.
"Oh, some of the children from the castle were there by the stream and they offered me what I needed. They were very friendly; they even gave me some of their bait. Rowdy young things," he said and Belle could see by his smile that Cogsworth had enjoyed their antics.
"Sounds like you actually had some fun," she said.
"Yes, but I'm rather looking forward to a quiet retirement by the sea. Just watching those children run about, fighting with each other was enough to exhaust me."
"Oh yes, you seem quite put out by it," she teased. "I won't make you do such a thing again."
"You may feel free to do so at any time, my dear," Cogsworth said. "You were quite right; truthfully I think it did me a world of good to get out for the day."
"I'm glad to hear it," Belle replied. "Maybe now you'll be able to relax a bit more often."
"Perhaps, but I'm also glad to be getting back to work. Lumiere isn't anywhere near being up for the task," Cogsworth said haughtily.
Belle restrained a giggle and nodded in agreement. "I can't see anyone ever being able to do what you're able to," she said truthfully. "I know we're going to rely on you to help plan the wedding especially."
"It will be my pleasure, mademoiselle," Cogsworth said and Belle could not help but notice his grin, though she wasn't quite sure whether his joy was for the sake of her and Adam, or for the planning and work the event would require. "Best run along to breakfast now. I'm sure the Master and your father are wondering what's become of you." Belle nodded and went on her way, glad that Cogsworth seemed much better for his day of relaxation.
"There you are!" her father exclaimed as she entered the small dining room. "We thought perhaps you forgot about us."
"I met Cogsworth in the hall," she explained as she took her place at the table opposite Adam. "He seemed to have enjoyed himself yesterday."
"Good," Adam said, nodding in approval. "I'm still surprised he took the day though."
"Belle, I was just asking Adam when you two plan on making good on that proposal of his," her father said, changing the subject as he speared a sausage with his fork. "As I understand it, these sorts of things take time to prepare."
"Well, Adam and I started talking about it yesterday. . ." Belle began.
"Gustave is supposed to return today. We'll be able to figure out what we have to do for the wedding, so then we'll be able to plan what we want to do after we know that," Adam said.
"What you have to do?" her father asked.
"I know there's going to be certain people we have to invite, things that will be expected of a prince's wedding," Adam explained, though he didn't look as though he relished the idea. "But once we get that out of the way, we'll have the space to do as we like." He looked up at Belle and smiled warmly at her. Belle returned the gesture, her heart fluttering with the image of soon being able to stand beside Adam as his wife.
"Well, I won't say I understand it, but Maggie and I, and the rest here, are anxious to see you two married," her father said and took one last large bite of toast. "I'll be in my workroom if you need me. I'm nearly done with the machine, Adam, if you'd like to come down this afternoon and help me test it out."
"Of course," Adam agreed and Belle's father left. "Maggie?" Adam asked Belle as soon as her father was out of sight.
"It seems that Mrs. Potts and Papa are growing quite close," she explained, smiling at Adam's flabbergasted expression that exactly mirrored her own feelings when she discovered this development herself.
"Perhaps it should be a double wedding," Adam laughed.
"Who else is getting married?" Gustave asked as he strode through the door, Belle's father following behind him. Belle found this curious; there was little that could keep Papa from his workroom.
"Gustave!" Belle exclaimed, ignoring the curiosity for the moment, and stood to embrace him. "Did you get back just now?"
"I did," he confirmed, smiling as he detangled Belle's arms from around his shoulders. "And I have an announcement: The stuffy old advisors will be here in three days, though I tried to have them wait till after their Prince married his lady, but they insisted."
"Oh dear," Belle said, wondering what sort of test would come with these apparently disagreeable men.
"Oh dear is right," he said unhappily. "I'm afraid you must be on your best behavior if they are to accept you, Belle. I'm sorry to have to put you through this. I had hoped to present you as Adam's wife when they arrived, securing your place, but weddings take time and the advisors are impatient."
"They couldn't help but love her," Papa insisted, though it was clear his thoughts were far away in his workroom. Obviously this news was not as interested as he thought it might be.
"I know she'll win their hearts," Adam said, coming to stand beside her. She was grateful for his words and his support, but she couldn't keep her heart from beating faster in terror.
"Oh, which reminds me," Gustave said, putting a hand into his jacket and drawing out a letter. "Lady Nicole asked me to give this to you, Adam." Belle and Adam exchanged glances as Adam took the letter and opened it. For a few moments, Belle watched Adam's eyes dart across the page as he read the letter, his face impassive.
What is this girl up to now? she thought desperately as Adam read. She knew nothing this girl could say would sway Adam, but she was already weary of this girl's interference.
At last, Adam's hand dropped and Belle noticed his expression had lightening into one of amusement.
"She's persistent, I'll give her that," Adam said with a smirk. "If I'm reading this the way she meant, which is hard enough for me to do, she's just flirting with me again. Saying how wonderful her time here was and how she hopes she sees me again soon." Belle snorted in disgust and Adam glanced at her, his eyes dancing with an amusement she wasn't sure she appreciated. "She mentions you, Belle," Adam added and held the letter up again to read from it. "'I hope with all my heart that Belle continues with her embroidery. Though she is a novice, I feel sure that with time she will be equal to any seamstress in the land.'"
"Perhaps you should not have read that aloud," Belle heard her father say. Belle herself could say nothing; by suggesting that Belle could become a seamstress, Nicole was truly saying that she was unsuited for the life of a princess, for a life with Adam.
"Belle?" she heard Adam say gently, though she could not raise her eyes to meet his; she was far too angry to do anything but stare blindly at the wall opposite her and wonder bitterly what it would take to get this girl to stop trying to destroy her life. "Belle, I'm sorry. I thought you would find it funny. It's ridiculous of her to even write to me; you know she has no hope. Belle?" Adam touched her arm and Belle flinched, coming out of her thoughts and registering finally what Adam had said.
"I know," she started. "I'm fine. Are you going to write back to her?"
"I wouldn't even know what to write. 'Go soak your head' comes to mind, but I don't think that's the best thing to say," he replied, giving the letter back to Gustave and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. Belle leaned in to his embrace, feeling the familiar warmth of his body, able to find comfort in his nearness.
"Probably not," Gustave agreed. "You should reply, though; a letter from the daughter of a Marquis should not go unanswered, but we can work on it later. For now. . ."
"For now, we should finish our breakfast. Gustave, you must be starving after your journey," Belle interrupted, tired already of talk of princes and duties. "We can discuss whatever it is you need to say after we eat." To emphasize her point, Belle deliberately returned to her seat. Her father caught her eye and grinned at her; apparently he approved of what she had just said. Gustave, whom Belle had worried she might anger by stopping him, merely chuckled and sat opposite the seat her father left empty to serve himself a slice of toast and a sausage link.
"I'll be in the workroom," her father said and made a rather hasty exit, clearly eager to leave before he was caught up in any more talk of politics, and Belle couldn't help but envy him.
Adam felt horrible about reading Nicole's letter to Belle. He truly thought she would laugh, knowing how ridiculous Nicole was, but he was sorely wrong. Belle's anger was something he rarely encountered, and Adam couldn't help but be glad that he was not on the wrong end of it this time. Fortunately, Belle was not one to brood and he was able to cheer her up by convincing Gustave to start discussing their wedding.
"You'll have to go through the nonsense of becoming Prince again first," Gustave said, continuing their earlier conversation in the study as he accepted a cup of tea from Mrs. Potts. "I still technically hold the title, and the advisors and lords under your rule will want things settled as soon as possible before you start marrying."
"But why?" Adam protested. Surely it didn't matter what order things got done, and he'd much rather present Belle to his court as his wife. Adam's heart leapt at the very word wife and he couldn't help but smile at the implication of togetherness the word implied.
"Because they want stability," Gustave answered. "No one has disrupted the line from father to son till now, and it has upset these people who rely on tradition. It would be wise to give that to them if they are to accept you.""I agree," Belle piped in. "I'd rather not put off the wedding any longer, but perhaps we can manage to get this in and still have the wedding soon."
"Though I personally would've liked to crown both of you side by side," Gustave put in, "I'll be glad when we can put these foolish politics behind us and focus on your wedding." At these words, Gustave directed his attention to Belle and Adam noticed the delighted smiles on both their faces that mirrored his own excitement.
Gustave and Adam used the rest of that day to prepare for the arrival of the advisors, running over some of the finer laws and what these men expected of Adam. Adam wasn't very keen on trying to present himself as these men expected him to be, and was even less thrilled to hear they disapproved of his courtship with 'a woman of low birth' as they had apparently put it. But their approval of Adam was the final key to allow Adam into his rightful place. Then, according to Gustave, Adam only had to gather the lesser lords of his lands, hear a few words from one of the King's archbishops who would come down for such an occasion, and say a few words himself before the change of title would be final.
Adam did his best to pay attention to Gustave; though he was eager to help his uncle any way he could in this matter, his heart was only truly in the wedding plans Belle was currently beginning with Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth. The small ceremony to regain his title was unlike anything anyone had encountered before; the hereditary line had never been broken before, and certainly never given back to another after someone already claimed it as his uncle was forced to. But Adam found the idea of parading himself around in front of everyone foolish and pointless. At least amongst some of the foolishness of the wedding, there was a real purpose to it: two hearts forever being joined as one.
"Welcome," Adam said formally, bowing respectfully to the four rather cross-looking men that descended from the carriage three days later. Gustave had warned him that these men were crotchety and unlikely to show any signs of approving of Adam, so when the men merely bowed and started inside without a word among them, Adam was only mildly surprised.
"Here we go," he muttered to Belle and took her hand to give him strength. He felt her fingers gently squeeze his own and he smiled, comforted as always by her presence.
"Thank you for coming all the way here," Adam said to the men as Cogsworth opened the door to the first floor parlor for them. "I hope the trip was nice." Adam struggled to speak formally as he had when the Marquis, his daughter, and the Comte had visited and, though Belle had said his speech had much improved, it was still a struggle for him to find the right words.
"Well enough," one of them grunted. Adam examined the speaker: a tall, angular man with a hard-looking face, weathered and wrinkled from what Adam could only assume was from a disagreeable life.
"Can I offer you some refreshment?" Gustave asked as they sat.
"No," the second man said, a shorter but just as harsh looking man as the first. "We must get to the bottom of this nonsense before anything else. You are truly the son of the late Prince Edmund and nephew to the current Prince Gustave?"
"Yes, I am," Adam confirmed simply.
"Hmm," the second man looked at Adam critically. "Well you certainly look as his son ought. But something about you is different."
"I hope so, monsieur," Adam said, unable to stop himself. He felt the entire room pause, the tension suddenly pressing on him.
"I hope so, too," the third visitor said with a grunt, though Adam thought he heard a kind edge to his words. He seemed a bit less harsh than the others, his face a bit rounder, or at least less sharp than the others.
"The Comte described him as having his father's likeness, but his mother's soul," Gustave put in.
"I knew your mother," the third man said. "She had the kindest soul of any I had come across."
"Thank you, monsieur," Adam said with a grateful bow, glad that his mother was remembered so fondly.
"I did not know his mother, monsieur," Belle spoke up for the first time since entering the parlor. "But I think I know Adam's soul, and it is indeed beautiful." Adam turned his gaze to look warmly at her, grateful for her words and touched by them.
"Ah, you are the. . .woman Gustave has told us about," the fourth man at last spoke. This man made Adam's breath catch in his throat in near terror; his dark eyes were set deep, seeming to look out from shadows, his face thin and sharpest of all his companions.
"My name is Belle, monsieur," she replied boldly and Adam smiled at her unwavering strength. "May I ask yours?"
Again, a silence that pressed on Adam's ears, as if Belle had just dared to ask this surly, sharp man to recite his deepest secrets.
"Jean," he said simply, then motioned his hand to his other companions and introduced them as well. "Antoine," meaning the third, kinder man. "Robert," to the second, shorter man. "Bernard," to the man who spoke first.
"It's very nice to meet you all," Belle replied when Jean had finished introducing them all, flashing a particularly beautiful smile that Adam recognized as one that had so easily warmed a Beast's heart. "I think I would like some tea. Would anyone else like to join me?"
"But Gustave already. . ." Adam started, but was interrupted as Jean spoke.
"I think we would, thank you," Jean said and suddenly his eyes did not look quite so dark. She is amazing, Adam remarked to himself. Moments later, Mrs. Potts arrived with tea and the four men settled more comfortably into their chairs.
"Shall we discuss what is to be done, Your Highness?" Antoine asked.
"Of—of course," he agreed, still amazed at the noticeably lighter mood of the room since Belle had so simply warmed these men.
"Gustave was telling us how such a thing had never happened before," Belle remarked, sitting on the sofa beside Jean. "That a hereditary line has never been so muddled before."
"This would be the first time something like this has happened. Though it certainly isn't the oddest," Jean confirmed and went into a rather boring history of Adam's family line and those lines who had gotten lost or sidestepped as far as third cousins. Adam's attention wandered, having gone through this many times with Gustave, but he noticed how Belle remained apt and attentive, nodding as Jean spoke. A true Princess, he said and smiled to himself.
"You are a miracle, my child!" Gustave exclaimed to Belle that night when the advisors had been shown their rooms. They had talked of Adam's future, eaten luncheon, conferenced further, had supper, and at last were content that Adam was well prepared to resume his rightful place. Through it all, Belle had been by Adam's side, listening intently to these men and somehow keeping them from speaking the harsh words Adam had been so sure they were ready to say to him that morning.
"I don't know what you've done to them, but I've never seen those men warm up to someone so quickly!" Gustave continued, embracing Belle. Adam watched her cheeks flush, whether with pleasure or embarrassment he couldn't be sure.
"I know what she did," Adam put in, taking his turn in embracing his fiancée. "She was bold and brave and quite herself. Well done," he said to the woman in his arms and tenderly kissed her forehead.
A week later, Belle stood by as she watched her beloved announce his entire court, or what seemed like nearly all of it anyway, that he was Prince Adam, son of the late Prince Edmund, and he was reclaiming his rightful place with the blessing of Gustave. Her heart swelled with pride for him, amazed at how his strong voice carried over the heads of the crowd before him seemingly fearlessly, though Belle was close enough to notice how his hands shook slightly. He stood tall atop a small platform that put him above the crowd so all might see him, accompanied only by Gustave who stood a short ways away to his right and an archbishop, summoned to oversee the ceremony, stood further back to Adam's left. Belle stood proudly in the front row of the crowd beside the Comte Henry and his wife, and did her best to ignore the Marquis and Nicole who stood on her other side.
When Adam declared himself, the crowd bent as one into bows of homage. Belle joined them, but could not resist peeking up at Adam. He was staring at her, an unsure smile on his face and Belle recalled that he did not enjoy being bowed to. She smiled at him and wrinkled her nose, silently teasing him and making his hesitant smile grow into a grin.
There was a formal gathering in the ballroom afterwards and Belle was finally able to take in the immense crowd that had come to the castle to see their new prince. It was not so massive as Belle had feared, but many who attended were nobles of equal or greater status than Adam and had come merely for the spectacle, making the crowd grow unnecessarily. Belle certainly did not envy Adam for having to speak in front of that mass.
She stood to the side for a few moments at the beginning of the gathering, remarking at how different an occasion this was from the celebration amongst the servants at the end of the enchantment. That had been a lively event, filled with laughter and energetic dancing. Now the ballroom seemed to have grown stiff with people who had been brought up to suppress the idea of lively fun, contenting themselves with graceful waltzes and conversations of weather and politics.
"I'm glad that's over with," Adam's voice whispered into her ear as she contemplated the change in atmosphere. "You almost made me laugh up there at the end."
"Sorry," she said with a smile, though truly not very sorry at all. "I'm so proud of you," she continued more seriously, taking his arm and raising her face to meet his eyes. "You were wonderful."
"Humph, every bit of me wanted to run and hide in the West Wing," he admitted. "I still do. This reminds me of what the castle used to be like when I was little. Stiff and boring."
"Perhaps I should invite Chip down to dance with them," she suggested merrily, remembering how she had danced with the boy with much more life than she guessed some of these nobles could ever dream of.
"That'd be something I'd like to see. Madame Pompous over there would probably faint," he said, subtly motioning to an older woman with a ridiculous wig and an expression of someone who had just smelled something unpleasant.
"Probably," she agreed with a giggle. "I suppose I'll just have to settle for you as a dance partner, then." She took his hand and led him forwards. "Besides," she added as they prepared to dance. "What better way to prove to them you're really a noble than to let them see you dance?"
"I think you might be overestimating my abilities," he chuckled, but led her around the floor just the same. "You know, now that this is over we can finally focus on our wedding," Adam said as they danced. It was a light waltz, allowing the breath for conversation.
"Thank goodness. I don't know how much longer I can keep Nicole at bay," she said, half teasing and looked over to where Nicole was standing. The girl was staring at them, a blatant look of anger twisting her otherwise pretty face. Belle smiled as sweetly as she could manage at her before turning her attention back to Adam.
"You still want to marry me after all this nonsense? After putting it off for so long to deal with my uncle and the court?" Adam asked and Belle could see in his eyes that he was truly concerned that he had ruined everything by having to settle the madness of politics first.
"Of course I do!" she exclaimed. "Adam, I love you so very much. I want to be with you, and I would wait as long as you needed." She reached up to stroke his cheek, thinking how she never thought she would get the chance to be with her true love, how he was almost taken from her in one terrible moment of anger and jealousy. The dance ended and Adam took the opportunity to pull Belle into a kiss. She felt his fingers comb gently through her hair and smiled, recalling how the Beast had done such a thing before; it had been a sparkling, pure moment in a time that had otherwise been banished to her nightmares.
"Adam?" she began, breaking the kiss to look up into his beautiful blue eyes.
"Will you marry me?"
"I would love to," he replied with a grin and spun her into another dance.