She walked slowly down the aisle, gripping the bouquet of flowers until her fingers ached. Papa walked beside her, solemn and silent as he led her forwards. She had dreamed of this day since she was a little girl, walking towards her true love to be joined together until death. But now her heart was breaking with every step she took; she felt a tear fall, rolling slowly down her cheek and she made no effort to brush it aside. What did she care what he thought of her tears?
She reached the end of the aisle and had to turn to face the man she was to marry, though she could not make herself raise her eyes to look at him. It was enough to see their hands joined, the course hair on his knuckles chafing her fingers.
"Do you, Gaston, take Belle to be your wedded wife. . ." the village priest droned without emotion. Belle began to panic; she was marrying Gaston! Why was she marrying Gaston? This wasn't right! Her mind shot back to the moment on the balcony after Gaston had stabbed her Beast. She had thought the Beast had lived and Gaston fell to his death, but her mind painted an image of the Beast's lifeless body, Gaston looming over him triumphantly. Another tear made its way down her cheek as she remembered holding a dying Beast in her arms only to be dragged away by Gaston moments later, forced to marry him to save her father from the asylum after all.
Belle raised her eyes from their joined hands to the disgusting, conquering smirk on her betrothed's face. She began to shake with anger: this man had killed her true love and forced her to marry him to keep her father from a horrible fate. There had to be something else she could do. If only the Beast was alive, this all could have been avoided.
"No," she said in defiance to what was happening, softly at first, no more than a whisper. Gaston's face twisted into an expression of rage; this was clearly not the response he wanted from the bride he had so maliciously pursued, but that only gave Belle courage. "No!" she repeated, stronger this time and tore her hands away from his. "NO!" With that, she flew back down the aisle, wanting nothing more than to find her Beast.
She ran through the forest that rose up to meet her, calling for her Beast, all too aware that Gaston had started to chase her. She lifted her heavy skirts above her ankles and ran faster, afraid what would happen when this horrible, dangerous man would catch her. If only she could find her Beast. He couldn't truly be dead, not after everything they had been though.
"Beast!" she called one last time, but it was too late. Gaston caught hold of her arm and pulled her painfully back towards him.
"You're mine," he growled, rage filling his eyes and sending Belle's heart pounding in terror.
"No! Beast!" she called one more time, but it was useless. Gaston pulled her back through the dark trees, away from the castle she had tried to reach, away from her Beast.
Belle jolted herself awake to the sound of someone shouting, only to discover that she was the one who was screaming the Beast's name.
The dream was still strong in her mind, unwilling to let her out of its grip and she bolted upright only to sob into her hands.
"Belle?" she heard a voice call to her, but she was unable to answer, her sobs taking her breath from her. Arms curled around her and she flinched from them, certain it was Gaston taking her away from her Beast, but the arms stayed where they were and she heard a soft voice call her name again. Confused at who could be speaking to her so kindly, she looked up to see a man with auburn hair holding her. Where was her Beast? But she met his kind blue eyes and suddenly the true events since she had shown Gaston the Beast's image in the magic mirror flooded her mind.
"Adam?" she said, still trying to drag herself out of the nightmare's grasp.
"It's all right, Belle. You're safe," he said gently. At the sound of his voice together connected with his touch, Belle was able to shake herself out of her nightmare, but its horrors became all the more sharper for it. She clutched at him, bidding him to hold her closer and could not stop the tears from coursing down her cheeks, horrified at what her dreams had shown her.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Adam asked and she felt his fingers move to gently run through her hair. She shivered at the familiar gesture, simultaneously comforting her and reminding her of that horrible night. She shook her head in response to his question and burrowed herself closer into his chest like a child, tears still making their way steadily down her face. "You're all right," he said softly and she felt him move so she might rest against his chest more comfortably. She leaned against him, feeling the warmth of his embrace and listened to the beat of his heart lull her into a more gentle sleep.
Belle woke to the unfamiliar feeling of soft velvet beneath her cheek. It was comfortable, so at first she didn't question it, but then she realized that the velvet rose and fell gently as if it was breathing. Confused, she sat up and saw that she had somehow fallen asleep on Adam's chest, the velvet of his coat providing her soft pillow. As she moved, his arm fell away from her shoulders and he stirred a little before waking up.
"Good morning," he said, his voice still thick with sleep.
"Good—good morning," she replied uncertainly, wondering why on earth Adam had fallen asleep in her room.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, sitting up straighter in her bed. At the question, Belle recalled the nightmare that had woken her screaming in the middle of the night and she shivered. Adam reached up and wrapped the dressing gown more tightly around her shoulders in a effort meant to warm her. Belle hadn't realized she had been wearing it, but was grateful for the extra covering; it would have been highly improper for Adam to be there with her just in her nightgown. Fortunately, Adam seemed to not have even bothered to take off his boots when he came to her rescue, further diminishing whatever scandal there might have been.
"Was the dream that horrible?" Adam asked and Belle realized she had not responded to his first question. She nodded and took Adam's hand, reassured by its soft touch after the coarseness of Gaston's hands in her dream.
"You were dead," she was finally able to say. "You were dead and I had to marry Gaston. I tried to run away from him to find you, but he caught me. And that's when I woke up." She closed her eyes tightly, trying to keep herself from seeing Gaston's sharp blue eyes gaze at her so greedily as she stood before him in her wedding gown.
"Oh, Belle," Adam said gently and tucked a strand of hair away from her face. "Belle, it's all right. Gaston is gone, he can't hurt you any more."
"I know," she replied and took a steadying breath, bringing herself back into reality. "Why are you here? I mean, I hope I wasn't screaming so loudly you could hear me from the West Wing."
"No, but you did give your father quite a scare," he said with a small smile. "Yes, he knows I'm here." Belle nodded, glad she wouldn't have to try to explain Adam's presence to her father. "I couldn't sleep," Adam continued. "So I was just wandering around the halls. I was nearby when you started calling for the Beast. I met your father near your door, but it was me you reached for."
"I'm sorry about that," she said, ashamed that she had let the dream frighten her so much.
"Don't be sorry," he insisted quickly as if he anticipated those words. "It meant so much to me to be able to be there for you, more than I think you realize." Belle smiled and leaned back into his arms, listening to the heartbeat that calmed her sleep so easily. She allowed herself a few more childish moments of feeling the safety of his arm before sitting up once more.
"Papa will be waiting for us for breakfast," she said, smoothing her doubtlessly messy hair. Adam took her hands away from her hair and kissed the tops of them.
"I'll see you in a few minutes," he said and stood to leave.
"Adam?" she said before he could reach the door. He turned back, his expression one of worry. "Thank you." He smiled and nodded.
"You know, in a few days I'll be there beside you. I won't have to be roaming the halls like a ghost to be able to chase away your nightmares." Belle grinned and Adam left, leaving her to dress and daydream of the fast upcoming day where she would become Adam's wife. A bubble of excitement filled her, knowing with all her heart that this was truly the wedding she wished for.
There was one problem with having the wedding so close now; the guests had come to stay in the castle to attend the wedding, and among those guests included the Marquis and Nicole. Belle had managed to avoid Nicole frequently enough by keeping herself extremely busy with the wedding preparations, but all too often the girl somehow found a way to be bothersome. While Belle was helping the servants to arrange the flowers on the pews of the chapel inside the castle (yet another room that had been closed off and left to the dust for ten years), Nicole decided to follow behind and offer her opinions on how the flowers should be done differently.
"Roses are so boring," she said as she trailed behind Belle. "I would much rather prefer peonies."
"I'm sure you can arrange that for your own wedding," Belle replied, hardly paying attention to her. She had far too much to do than to waste time arguing with Nicole. But Nicole's response almost made Belle forget that.
"This should have been mine," the girl muttered. Belle whirled around, anger pulsing through her as she only felt when Nicole was at her worst. But she looked into the girl's cold green eyes and found that her anger faded away into pity. This girl had been given every luxury and still was so unhappy; it occurred to her that this was what Adam might have been like when he was a boy, before the enchantment took hold of him. What must it be like to have everything and yet still nothing?
"Let's sit for a moment," Belle suggested and drew the girl down to sit beside her in one of the chapel's pews.
"You know it's true," Nicole continued. "I should have been the one to marry Adam."
"Nicole," she started and tried very hard to keep her frustration at bay. "I understand you're angry with me for taking away what you thought was supposed to be yours. But do you even love Adam?"
"What has love got to do with anything?" she demanded, clearly seeing no point in the question.
"Love is everything," Belle replied, amazed at herself for keeping the surprise out of her voice. "Marriage is so much more than finding a good social match. I knew someone in the village where I come from who thought like you. He wanted to marry me only because he thought I was beautiful enough to hang on his arm as some sort of trophy and give him handsome children.""Well, I suppose you're beautiful for a village girl, but. . ." Nicole started, but Belle cut her off.
"The point is, I never loved him, and he never loved me. I couldn't marry someone who I couldn't trust to take care of my heart. But then I met Adam and I realized how full a life could be. I never want to go a day without seeing him or feeling the touch of his hand in mine." There was so much more Belle wanted to say, how she found comfort in his gaze and dreamed of him at night, but such things were too close to her heart to be shared with Nicole. "You deserve that, too," Belle continued. "You should be free to find someone to share your life and your heart with, not simply find a match because it would improve your social status."
Nicole was silent for a moment, staring at the carved wooden back of the pew in front of them. Belle began to worry that she had somehow offended the girl, but still hoped that Nicole found truth in her words. "I—" she started hesitantly. "My father always said that I had to marry someone who was rich enough to take care of us, who would improve our social standing. There's so few of those left who would marry me. When Adam came back my father wanted me to do everything I could to get Adam to marry me, even though we knew about you." Belle nodded and realized that it was truly the Marquis who had been behind all of this, not Nicole, though she certainly did her best to help the plot along. A father who wanted a better life for his daughter was something Belle could relate to, even if the Marquis was a bit more cruel in his methods.
"I understand," Belle replied. "I know you'll find someone who will please both your father and yourself. Though I think that if you find someone you love who loves you in return, your father will want your happiness in the end." Nicole shook her head but did not respond.
"I should go," she said suddenly and all but ran from the chapel. Belle watched her go, hoping that she had seen a moment of understanding in her eyes, hardly daring to believe that a few simple words could affect her so greatly. Hoping she had done more good than harm, Belle stood to continue arranging the flowers, but her thoughts were still on Nicole.
Now that he had officially been declared Prince, Adam found himself nearly bombarded by his advisors, other nobles, and even some people from the nearby villagers with all kinds of pleas and requests. He tried to take care of these requests as best he could, but too quickly he found himself overwhelmed by them. The four advisors had left the castle in the north to live in Adam's castle; their nearness allowed them to help Adam with these requests, but Adam wasn't so sure he liked how full the castle was growing. Granted, many of the people who were there only came for the wedding and would leave when it was over. But with the four advisors and their servants, as well as his uncle and his manservant, the castle was far more crowded than he wanted. More and more often he found himself saddling a horse to escape the crowded castle and the confusing madness that centered around the wedding.
It wasn't long ago that Adam had the castle nearly all to himself, the servants too afraid of the Beast to bother him as he growled and brooded through the halls. He was sure he never wanted to go back to that horrible solitude, especially if it meant losing Belle, but having so many people suddenly around him made Adam uncomfortable. So he sought refuge in the empty fields of his lands and the freedom of riding across them. One morning, the day after he had comforted Belle from her nightmare of Gaston, he went down to the stables only to find Belle outside it, sitting astride Philippe, the horse he had been using saddled and ready beside her.
"So I guess we're going riding together?" he said merrily, walking up to stand beside Belle.
"I thought it might be nice to get some time together," replied, looking down at him as she sat on her horse, her smile bright and warm. "We've both been busy with one thing or another."
"Good idea," he agreed and easily vaulted onto his own horse. They didn't race this time, merely trotted through the grounds and talked of anything but their recent responsibilities. Though Belle did mention a rather interesting encounter with Nicole as she was arranging flowers in the castle's chapel. It seemed as though Belle had managed to at least provoke Nicole into thinking about what she had been doing.
They spent a few hours away from the bustle of the castle, talking and laughing as though they had nothing waiting for them. Belle had even brought a book in her saddlebags and they took turns reading chapters to each other. Eventually though, the blissful, peaceful time had to end and they returned to the castle. As they left their horses to the stable hands and turned towards the castle door, Adam sighed, unwilling to return to the chaos inside.
He felt Belle's hand slide into his own and he closed his fingers gently around it, his heart lifting with the knowledge that in just three days they would be wed. Though he couldn't help the guilty pleasure he felt at the knowledge that when the wedding was over it would also mean things would quiet down again.
Two days remained until the wedding and Adam found himself growing nervous for the coming event. He began to doubt yet again that he was good enough for Belle; surely someone like him couldn't deserve someone as good and kind as her. His own memories were certainly no help to him, jumping back painfully to the moments where he imprisoned Belle's father, took away her own freedom, yelled and growled at her, and put his own needs ahead of hers. Adam was still so afraid of reverting back to his cruel, selfish ways despite Belle's influence.
But whenever he was near her Adam felt whole, as if a piece of himself had been missing and was only truly filled when he held her in his arms. She had done so much for him, teaching him and guiding him, giving him a love he had never known before; how could he bear to no longer have her in his life?
As he stood in the West Wing during a rare moment of solitude, Adam turned to the rose that still remained under the bell jar, suspended in air yet void of any other magic. Now that he had found true love, he couldn't bear to think of losing it and tried to trust that Belle felt the same. She had accepted his proposal, hadn't she? Not to mention she remained in the castle with him and helped him through the nearly overwhelming duties of Prince. Surely Belle would never have done such things if she didn't love him. Adam closed his eyes and smiled as he saw Belle's beautiful face looking down at him as he knelt before her, her eyes seeming to sparkle with her obvious joy as he asked the ever-important question.
A knock on the door drew him out of his thoughts of his betrothed and he bid whoever it was to enter. Lumiere appeared from behind the door and strode up to him, his long face set into an expression of excitement.
"The final details are complete, Master!" he exclaimed as he drew near to Adam. "All is ready for your wedding the day after tomorrow!"
"Good," he grunted. "Thank you for everything you've done, Lumiere. I know Belle was grateful for your help. And so am I.""It was my pleasure, Master," Lumiere said with a humble bow but Adam noticed that he was pleased by the comment.
"Was there something else?" Adam asked, seeing how Lumiere hesitated.
"I was wondering if you had thought about what you might get Belle as a wedding gift," he replied. Adam chuckled, grateful for Lumiere's reliable help.
"I had, actually," Adam replied. "But thank you for reminding me."
"May I ask what you are giving her?" Lumiere asked and Adam could tell he was trying to hide his surprise that Adam had remembered such a detail himself. This had not always been the case with him, after all.
"You can, but that doesn't mean I'll tell you," he replied merrily. "I'd like to keep it a secret, if you don't mind."
"But of course, Master," Lumiere agreed easily. "I have also come to say that lunch will be served soon."
"Thank you," Adam said and Lumiere left. Adam turned back to the rose and grinned, his previously gloomy thoughts banished as he imagined Belle's reaction to the gift he had planned for her.
She had just finished the final fitting of her wedding gown and she couldn't have felt more relived. Her mother's gown had been restored to its former glory and altered slightly to better suit the times and Belle's form. But while Belle was grateful for the seamstresses' beautiful, careful work, she couldn't help but feel rather like a pincushion by the time they were done.
Belle just finished dressing into one of her simpler, more comfortable gowns, eager for the relief from the constricting and uncomfortable pins when a small knock came from the door. The seamstresses had left, shooed along by Estelle, and the knock was too low on the door to have come from any adult anyway. Curious, Belle opened the door to find Chip standing in the hall in front of her door."Chip!" she exclaimed, happy to see the boy but wondering what had provoked him to visit her room. "What can I do for you?"
"I—I wanted to talk to you, Belle," he replied and Belle was surprised to see him look rather worried about something.
"Of course!" She stepped aside to let the boy in and sat at the small table by the window so she might be more at his eye level. "Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No. . .I mean, maybe," he started hesitantly. He trailed off and seemed to be trying to figure out what to say, so Belle simply waited. "Your Papa likes my Mamma," he finally blurted out. Belle felt her eyes widen in surprise; of everything Chip could have said to her, Belle never expected that.
"Yes, Chip, they do," she said gently, again waiting for Chip to continue with his thoughts.
"I like your Papa. He teaches me how to build things and doesn't mind me hanging around unless he says it's too dangerous. And I'm glad he's nice to Mamma," he went on after a moment. "But I don't want them to get married."
"Well I don't think that will happen for quite some time," she tried to assure him, but Chip shook his head. "Why don't you want them to?" she asked.
"Because then Mamma will be your stepmother," he said, his eyes widening to emphasize his point. Belle was silent for a moment, trying to figure out what Chip meant.
"Oh, you mean like in Cinderella?" she finally pieced together. She had just read the story to them earlier that week; apparently it made a greater impression on the boy than she realized. Chip nodded, his expression a mix of sadness and fear. "Chip, do you really think your mother could be even the least bit cruel to me?" she asked, holding out her hands to draw Chip into her arms.
"But all the stories say. . ."
"If my Papa and your mother do marry, that means I'll also be your stepsister. Do you really think I would ever even imagine treating you the way Cinderella's stepsisters treated them?" Chip paused and then slowly began shaking his head. "Your mother is one of the kindest people I've ever known. I know she'll be just as good to me as she is to you. Remember that the stories don't know everything. The Master was a great beast at the beginning of our own story, wasn't he? And he turned out to be the hero; very few of the stories talk about that."
"I thought you were the hero," Chip argued merrily, seeming to understand what Belle had been saying.
"We were all heroes," she replied and gave him a gentle squeeze. "Do you feel better now?"
"Yup. I think I'm going to tell Margaret and Luke a story about nice stepmothers and stepsisters," he said merrily and squirmed out of her arms.
"Good idea," she agreed and watched as Chip rushed out of the room. She sat for a moment longer and smiled at the thought of her father finding a happiness he had not known since her mother was alive. But Chip's comment reminded her that she had work to do, so she stood and made her way towards her next task.
Belle and Adam had spent a wonderful morning in the library reading The Odyssey. Belle was glad Adam was no longer shy about reading to her; though Belle enjoyed sharing the stories with Adam, it was much more enjoyable being able to give her voice a rest. It was a relief to be doing something that did not involved the wedding, something enjoyable from her normal routine. Belle was excited beyond belief, but the thought of it also made her a bit queasy. She decided it was best not to think about it and merely enjoy Adam's company.
But after they shared lunch together (her father coming up only long enough to grab a plate of food before returning to his workroom) it became impossible to ignore, for Lumiere and Cogsworth had come and insisted that she and Adam say goodbye until tomorrow.
"You cannot see each other twenty-four hours before the ceremony!" Lumiere exclaimed.
"Really I think it's supposed to be longer than that, but I let Lumiere have this one," Cogsworth added, sounding a bit resentful.
"But—" Belle began and looked at Adam helplessly. But to her surprise, he was grinning.
"All right, all right," he agreed and placed his hands on the shoulders of his two loyal servants. "I promise I'll go and hide from Belle soon. Give us a few minutes?" Cogsworth grumbled a bit, but Lumiere shoved him back through the door and they were gone. Before Belle could say anything, Adam had his arms around her shoulders and was pulling her gently to his chest. She complied willingly, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"You still do want to marry me, right?" she heard him ask and realized that Adam was as frightened of tomorrow as she was. But she knew that to have Adam in her life was exactly what she had been dreaming of and that knowledge gave her courage.
"Of course," she said, her voice muffled slightly within the folds of his jacket. "I love you, Adam. You're my home; I'd do anything to be with you." Adam's arms held her tighter and she felt him kiss the top of her head. She raised her face to his and pulled him into a proper kiss, enjoying the bliss of their lips gently pressing together. They broke apart and Adam drew her close to him again.
"I love you, too," he whispered into her hair before releasing her. "So I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," she confirmed and drew him into one last kiss knowing the next time they did so they would be man and wife. He smiled at her one more time before leaving, presumably to return to the West Wing and Belle was she left wondering what she should do while she waited for the coming day.