Adam turned when he heard the doors to the chapel open and felt his heart leap at the sight that met his eyes. Belle was there at last, a shimmering vision as she seemed to almost glide towards him, her beautiful face delicately framed in a long veil that draped across her bare shoulders and swept along behind her. His heart, which had been beating too quickly, suddenly stopped as he realized that this beautiful, wonderful woman had actually agreed to marry him. He was going to be able to spend his life with her, to have adventures and grow old with her. Six months ago he had been convinced he would remain a Beast till the end of his days, alone in his self-made prison. But now he found himself almost grateful for the Enchantress' curse, for it meant that Belle was there, coming to stand beside him now.
Belle drew level with him, met his gaze, and smiled that heart-breakingly beautiful smile of hers, the smile he had grown to love and recognize as a happiness just for him. He recalled the first time she had smiled at him so; Belle had shown him how to feed the birds hopping about in the snow, taking his paw and leaning on him for balance. It was the first moment Adam was aware of that Belle was truly content with his company, that she was happy to be with him. That same smile greeted him now as Maurice placed Belle's hands in his own.
Adam had the presence of mind enough to bow in gratitude to Maurice, wordlessly thanking him for allowing all of this to occur. Maurice could have easily kept his daughter from marrying the creature who had imprisoned them (well, perhaps not so easily considering Belle's willful mind) but instead Maurice decided to forgive Adam and allow him a happiness Adam still wasn't sure he entirely deserved.
He turned back to his bride, his Belle, and vaguely he was aware that the ceremony began. The Archbishop began speaking, but Adam could not tear his gaze away from Belle's soft brown eyes. She took his hands, halting their trembling, and Adam restrained the impulse to pull her into a kiss. It was not the time to, not yet.
They had decided to speak their own words at the wedding, despite the fact the Archbishop forbade it. The stuffy old man insisted that tradition called for a certain order and it would not do to disrupt that. So they had decided, though Adam felt a bit queasy at the idea, of whispering their words to each other instead while the Archbishop droned on with words that had little to do with them.
"I love you, Belle" Adam started nervously when the Archbishop had found his stride amongst the meaningless words of tradition. Adam kept his voice low so as not to offend the Archbishop but not so quiet that Belle couldn't hear. He could feel his face begin to turn red at the words he intended to speak, but it helped knowing only Belle could hear him and his courage strengthened. "You saved me from a fate worse than death. You showed me the beauty in the world, the beauty in a soul as far gone as my own had been. You're always so patient with me, helping me to understand and to learn more than I had ever cared to before. You opened up a new world for me, Belle. And, best of all, you taught me how to love. You are a miracle. I'm so grateful for every day I get to see you and be reminded of the goodness in you and of the soul you found in me. I am honored to stand beside you now, to walk through life with you, to join you in your adventures. Thank you, my love, for daring to tame the Beast. Thank you for finding a way to love me."
He tucked that same stray piece of hair off Belle's forehead as he finished speaking and noticed that there were tears in her eyes. For half a moment, Adam was worried he said something wrong and his small courage crashed into anxiety, but her shining smile assured him that the tears were of joy. Adam smiled in return and again restrained the urge to kiss his beloved, settling on gently squeezing her fingers.
Belle opened her mouth to speak, but the Archbishop then decided to speak a little more loudly than he had been, causing Belle to pause and look at him seemingly attentively for a few moments. Adam knew the Archbishop could not be pleased that two people he was trying to marry were not paying attention, but truly Adam did not understand how a series of speeches were to represent his relationship to Belle better than their own words. After a few moments, though, the Archbishop continued at his normal volume and Belle returned her gaze to Adam. He felt her fingers tighten around his and he smiled, understanding that she was as nervous as he was. But now he had spoken his heart, all of it completely, leaving it open before Belle and ready to hear what she might now say to him.
Belle knew that the aisle she had to walk down was rather long; she wasn't sure that she would be able to endure having everyone's eyes on her for the time it took her to make her way down it, but when the doors at last opened, the crowds standing on either side of her did not matter. All she chose to see was the man in a handsome pale blue coat standing at the end of the aisle, gazing at her with a wide smile as she took steady steps towards him.
Belle stood at last beside Adam, her heart nearly bursting with love for this man, this beautiful, gentle, courageous man who found his way into her heart. Adam beamed down at her and in his eyes she could see the incredible love she never thought she would find.
Then Adam began to speak, and Belle's eyes filled with tears, blurring Adam's image but not the beautiful words he spoke. It was not the first time he thanked her for breaking the enchantment, not the first time he insisted she had found a soul where he was convinced there had been none, but the raw, open sincerity of his words and the emotion behind them made the words new.
But now it was her turn to speak and Belle wasn't entirely sure she had the courage to open her heart as Adam had to her. He had been growing in confidence since he regained his humanity and his words were proof of how far he had come. But she wasn't sure that she would be able to match his confidence. Fortunately, the Archbishop began to speak louder, interrupting her and clearly upset that they should not be paying attention to him. But this day was not about him, and his interruption did nothing but give her a moment to collect herself.
"I've never met anyone like you," she began surprisingly steadily, finding her courage in the familiar, gentle pool of Adam's gaze. "You are such a surprising person; the moment you allowed that temper of yours to fade," she continued with humor in her voice at the recollection of the Beast's flaring temper, "I could discover that underneath that anger was a gentle, dear soul. I never thought I would find love; really I never thought I would marry, since nearly everyone found me too odd. You were the first to see me for who I am, to encourage me to be myself. It was clear that you enjoyed life, or you were enjoying rediscovering it. That excitement and enthusiasm, and your gentleness and curiosity made me love you. You are my friend, my love, and I've never wanted anything as much as I want to spend my life with you."
Belle's heart skipped a beat as Adam's expression turned into one of love and longing, a look far too similar to the one he wore the day they had fed the birds together, the expression that sent her heart beating wildly and began the questions of their new relationship buzzing in her mind.
The Archbishop's voice broke their gaze once more, however, and this time it was for a good reason. The Archbishop's longwinded speech finally made its way to where Adam and Belle made their vows out loud through the traditional words the Archbishop insisted upon.
"Belle, I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part," Adam said carefully and Belle noticed the smile he tried to suppress, making it harder for her to keep her own grin at bay.
"Adam, I take you to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part," she recited at the Archbishop's prompting. She preferred the vows she and Adam had devised. But then the rings were presented and she finally gave the traditional words the attention the Archbishop demanded. The rings were presented to them, two simple silver bands that matched each other in every way but size.
Adam took her hand and met her gaze and Belle tried vainly to banish the tears that once more clouded her eyes. "With this ring, I thee wed," he said solemnly and gently pushed the silver band onto her finger. She returned the words and the gesture, never breaking his gaze.
A few more words from the Archbishop that Belle was too distracted to listen to, and then Adam was leaning down to her. She raised her hand to his cheek and their lips met. Her heart soared, knowing this was their first moment as husband and wife, their first act of a new life together.
Adam had never known a sweeter kiss than the kiss he shared with his wife. Gently he cupped the back of her head to pull her closer, unwilling for the kiss to end just yet, enjoying far to much the sensation of holding close the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Despite all they had been through, it still seemed impossible that Belle should truly be there, that she had become his wife and he her husband.
But of course the kiss had to end and Adam was forced to look away from his wife to make their way back down the aisle and towards the celebration that would take place first in the formal dining hall and then on into the ballroom. What he really wanted was to find somewhere to be alone with Belle, to talk to her and hold her, not continue to entertain the nobles who had crowded his castle. But he knew that was impossible, so he simply led the procession towards the dining hall with Belle on his arm, unable to stop beaming down at her. He was sure he looked like a fool simply grinning at her, but it was hard to look away.
The meal was more or less a blur for Adam; food was presented in front of him, toasts were made, and guests chattered, but it was all lost on him. A year ago, Adam would never had thought that he would be sitting beside his bride, human and overwhelmed with joy. Of course, a year ago Adam would never have believed himself capable of such emotion and probably would have laughed in the face of the person who told him so. Nevertheless, he was there, watching Belle chat with the people around her, occasionally smiling at him or taking his hand under the table. It was difficult to be able to talk to her with the noise of the dining hall, much as he yearned to, so he contented himself with filling his eyes with her. It wasn't until the meal was over and they moved into the ballroom that Adam was able to finally speak with his bride.
"Are you ready?" she asked and Adam felt his eyebrows furrow in confusion.
"Our first dance, of course," she replied with a gentle smile and only then did Adam realize that she had led him to the center of the ballroom and that her long veil had been removed, by whom Adam could not guess. He glanced around quickly, enough to realize that their guests were gathered around the floor looking at them expectantly. Feeling as nervous as he had when Belle first asked him to dance, Adam took Belle's hand in his own and wrapped his other hand around her waist. But as they begun to dance, Adam was able to forget the eyes watching them and focused only on the woman in his arms.
"How are you feeling?" Belle asked as he guided them around the floor to the orchestra's music.
"Like I'm dreaming," he replied honestly. "Are you sure this is all real?"
"Should I pinch you to prove it?" Belle teased, causing him to chuckle.
"You look so beautiful," he said after a moment and grinned as a blush crept into Belle's cheeks. "Are you happy?"
Belle's hand came up from his shoulder to run her fingers along his jaw. "More than I imagined possible. Truly." Adam grinned and spun her across the floor, enjoying greatly the joy in his beloved's eyes and her laughter as he bid her to twirl out at arm's length then return to him once more.
Belle felt dizzy as she danced with her new husband, a dizziness which had little to do with the circles he spun them in. It was amazing to her that she should be in the arms of a husband who would make her happy all of her days, who she wanted nothing more than to make him happy in return.
She would be wonderfully glad to have spent the entire night in Adam's arms, but alas the dance had to end and she was brought back to the present by the subdued applause from the nobles that surrounded them. She glanced around at the unfamiliar faces, nodding and smiling at them politely before being escorted off the floor to open it up for their guests. Fortunately, not all the guests were strangers. As Belle and Adam reached the edge of the dance floor, Mrs. Potts and her father came up to them.
"Congratulations, my dears!" Mrs. Potts exclaimed emotionally and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
"Now, now, my dear you mustn't cry," Maurice said consolingly to Mrs. Potts. "They'll think you're not happy for them!"
"You're one to talk, Maurice," she scolded and batted at him with her handkerchief. "You hardly stopped crying through the entire ceremony!" Maurice blushed, Adam laughed, and Belle beamed, overjoyed that her father and Mrs. Potts were getting along so well.
"When you've got a minute," Maurice said, clearly trying to change the subject. "I'd like to borrow you and my new son-in-law."
"Of course, Papa. We should greet our guests first, though," she said, wondering what her father could want them for that would take them away from the throng.
"All right," he agreed. "Find us when you're ready. But first, I'd like a dance with the bride if her husband will allow it." Maurice said and Belle giggled as Adam gestured his unneeded consent.
"You've done so well, my dear," Papa said as they began to waltz around the floor. It had been a long time since Belle had danced with her father; it must have been before they had left the city, for she was much shorter then and remembered having to reach up to her father's shoulder. But the steps were familiar and it was comfortable to dance with him again. "I knew you would find your adventures at last."
"I'm glad you did. I started to doubt it for a little while there," she confessed.
"It did look pretty bleak, didn't it?" he chuckled. "But it all worked out in the end."
"I'm so glad you gave Adam a chance, Papa. I know it couldn't have been easy for you."
"You've always had good judge of character. And when you came back to me, there was something so different about you I knew something had to have changed. Besides, when I met him for myself the second time, he was the perfect gentleman."
"And you're happy being here, Papa? You're comfortable living here?" Belle had asked him this several times before, and always the answer had been positive, but it didn't hurt to ask once more.
"My dear, I haven't been so happy since you're mother was alive."
"I'm think that Mrs. . . . ah, Maggie's got something to do with that," she pressed and smiled as her father blushed.
"Yes, well, she's a remarkable woman. You don't think it's wrong to be seeking her company, do you? You don't mind, I mean?"
"Why would I?" she replied quickly. "She seems to be very happy when she's with you, and I haven't seen you smile so much since Maman was with us. I think you deserve some happiness, Papa, and I couldn't be more glad that you've found it with Maggie."
"Thank you, Belle. Now, enough about me. Tell me when I can get some grandchildren."
"Papa," Belle sighed.
"What? I'm not getting any younger, you know," he replied with a grin.
"You'll get your grandchildren when Adam and I are ready, Papa. Let us learn how to be married to each other for a little while first."
"Of course, of course," Papa said. "I can't believe my girl is married. And to a Prince, of all things. You're really living in one of your fairy tales."
"I really am," she agreed and glanced over her father's head to catch Adam's eye.
"Go back to your husband now," Papa said as the dance ended. "And remember to find me and Maggie when you can get away."
"Of course, Papa," she agreed and bent to kiss her father's cheek before they broke away, each to seek their own loves.
She and Adam were separated for a time as they made their way through the crowds to greet their guests. She managed to catch a glimpse of him through the glittering crowd chatting with Lumiere before he moved on to talk with one of their guests. Belle herself ran into Henry and wife and spent several pleasant minutes chatting with them. They were very kind, telling her how beautiful she was, how wonderful the ceremony was, and how happy they were for she and Adam.
A little deeper into the crowd, Belle noticed Nicole in a lovely maroon gown standing nearby one of the columns in the ballroom. From where Belle stood, it seemed as though Nicole was alone and looking rather lonely and Belle decided she should go over and keep the girl company. As she made her way over, however, Belle was able to see Nicole at a new angle and noticed that she was standing beside a tall, rather gangly blond man.
Belle was rather astonished to see how shyly Nicole was looking up at the man's face and how the man seemed to be blushing. She realized with a start that the man she stood beside was the son of a baron, several classes below her current rank. No wonder her father had been pushing Nicole to steal Adam away; he was unhappy that his daughter fancied a man he believed to be beneath her station. Belle grinned and hoped things would work out between Nicole and this young baron.
She caught up to Adam and turned him in the direction of her new discovery.
"How about that," Adam said in clear astonishment. "What wonders have you worked this time?"
"It wasn't me," she insisted. "All I did was talk to her. It seems she knew what she wanted all along, her father just didn't want her to have it."
"Fathers can be rather difficult. You're very lucky that you have Maurice."
"Oh, Papa! He wanted us to meet him, remember?"
"Let's go now. They won't miss us," Adam said and took her hand, weaving amongst the people to find Maurice and Mrs. Potts talking at the edge of the crowd. They had almost reached them, but someone caught up to them first.
"Well, my boy!" Gustave came up behind them, clapping Adam on the shoulder and halting their progress. "You've done it at last! You finally married this marvelous, wonderful woman!" Gustave kissed Belle's hand. "I'm so proud of you both!"
"Thank you, Uncle," Adam said, sounding slightly overwhelmed.
"I'll be expecting little heirs running about soon now," Gustave added and Belle watched as Adam's face grew red and his mouth open and close, trying to respond by seemingly having no voice. Belle smiled, her heart growing warm at the idea of having children with Adam, and equally as terrified by the idea as Adam seemed to be.
"I don't think I'm ready to share Adam just yet, Gustave," Belle said, coming to Adam's rescue. "I'd like to be selfish for a little while longer, if you don't mind."
"As you say, my dear," Gustave consented with a nod and left them to resume their path towards Belle's father.
"Breathe, Adam," Belle reminded her husband merrily. Adam glanced at her and smiled, but she could still see paralyzing fear in his eyes. "We don't need to worry about that for a long time, all right?" Adam nodded and seemed to relax a bit more, but he still seemed rather in a daze.
"There you are!" her Papa exclaimed as she and Adam approached them. "Shall we go?"
"Where are you taking us, Papa?" Belle asked as she followed her father and Mrs. Potts out of the ballroom, linked arm in arm with a still-stunned Adam.
"You'll see," he said, hardly turning back to answer. Belle glanced at Adam who shrugged, clearly as clueless as she was, and merely followed them up the stairs and towards Belle's room. Well, her old room; tonight and ever more she would be staying in the West Wing with Adam.
"Oh, Papa," Belle breathed as her father opened the door. In the room nearly empty after Belle had her things moved to the West Wing, Belle's eyes were immediately directed to a beautiful wooden chest standing proudly the center of the floor. She bent over it, careful not to snag her dress, and ran her hands along its intricately carved surface in amazement.
Belle seemed overjoyed at the presentation of the box. Yes, it was beautiful, but it clearly had a significance he didn't understand.
"What is it?" he whispered to Mrs. Potts.
"It's a hope chest," she replied.
"A hope chest," Maurice repeated. "A bride is supposed to present one to her husband when they get married as part of her dowry. Of course, we have no dowry for you as you know, but I thought now I could make Belle a hope chest she could pass down."
Adam inwardly sighed as again the subject of children came up with the idea of passing down this hope chest to the daughters he might have with Belle. He and Belle never had a serious conversation about having children together, but now he wished they had. Of course he wanted children, but not yet, not so soon. Belle seemed happy to wait as well, but whether it was for his sake or hers he couldn't be sure.
"Papa this is beautiful," Belle said, standing to embrace her father. "Thank you so much."
"It's about time you had one. I'm just sorry I couldn't give you a full one.""Don't be silly, Papa. I love it, and Adam and I can fill it ourselves. Right?" she turned to Adam and he smiled and nodded. She seemed so happy, how could he deny her anything?
"Maggie helped. The lining inside the lid is her work," Maurice said, the pride in his voice evident as Maurice took hold of Mrs. Potts' hand. Belle went back and opened the lid to praise Mrs. Potts' work and now Adam joined her. The lining was beautiful, but Adam was more interested in the beautiful carvings on the outside of the chest. He had never seen such delicate work; it must have taken Maurice weeks to complete.
"It's beautiful," he said in gratitude to Maurice and Mrs. Potts.
"Let's leave them alone, Maurice," Mrs. Potts suggested, taking Maurice's arm. "Don't ignore your guests, now," she added as she led Belle's father away. Belle came up and took hold of Adam's arm, watching them go.
"They're lovely together, don't you think?" Belle asked wistfully and Adam felt her head come to rest against his arm. Rather than verbally responding to the question that really needed no answer, Adam turned to kiss the top of Belle's head, being careful not to disturb her delicate tiara.
"Come, I have a gift for you, too," Adam said, deciding that while they had escaped from the crowds downstairs.
"Wait, I do too!" she said, pulling out of his hand to go to her vanity. She pulled a package she couldn't quite see out of its drawer and hid it behind her skirts.
"What is it?" he asked, trying to peek around to see.
"Are you sure you want it now?" she asked. "It isn't much."
"Please?" he said, taking hold of her bare shoulders gently and sliding down her arms, pretending that he would take the gift from her hands. She grinned and jumped out of his reach.
"All right, all right. Here," she said and held out the object she had been hiding.
It was a handsome leather bound book, the leather pressed on the edges of the cover with intricate designs. He opened the book, expecting another story like the one she had given him at Christmas, but to his surprise the pages were blank. He looked up at Belle, confused.
"I thought this could be our book," she explained. "We have hundreds of books with other stories in them, I thought it was time there was one with our stories. We can put our adventures in here."
"I love it," he said honestly and pulled her close to him to kiss her. "I can't wait to start it. Do you think it will end happily ever after like your favorite tales do?"
"We'll have to wait and find out," she replied with a gentle smile and pulled him back into the kiss. "Now, you said you had something for me?"
"I suppose I did," he grinned. "Come with me." He took her hand and led her out of the room and towards the West Wing to a room opposite the doors that led to his rooms. Shaking with what he was intending to do for Belle, he opened the doors to reveal a large, comfortable room with little inside except for a few chairs and the grand piano.
"Adam?" he heard Belle ask as she entered the room.
"I know you enjoyed what I played before," he started, hearing in her voice the apprehension at being presented once more with the piano that marked a low point in their history together. "I thought, I thought I might try again for you."
"Adam, I never expected you to force yourself to do that," Belle protested. "You don't need to. . ."
"I'd like to," he interrupted. "I mean, if I was right in thinking that you. . .you enjoyed what I tried to do last time." Wordlessly, Belle took a seat in the chair nearest the piano, folded her hands in her lap, and looked at him expectantly. Adam couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him and he sat on the piano's bench to prepare himself to once more play for Belle.
Belle all but held her breath as Adam raised his hands to the piano's keys. The last time he had played for her, it had caused him terrible pain to do so, a pain she could not fully understand. She was nervous this session might end the same way the first one did, with Adam becoming inexplicably ashamed of himself, but she believed that Adam had come so far since then. The first time, he had been struggling to regain his humanity while trapped within the Beast's form, torturing himself by trying to please her. Perhaps this time would be different.
But Belle's worry and concern faded as Adam began to play, once more feeling the sensation of floating amongst the notes he created. It was a different song than the first, one Belle was not familiar with. But it was a beautiful song, more lovely than Belle thought possible. It was amazing to her that anyone had such beauty in their soul, and even more amazing that Adam had found a way of expressing that beauty. The song lasted several minutes, carrying Belle to the stars once more and gently setting her back into her chair as it ended. As the last notes faded, Belle sighed, allowing a tear to roll down her cheek.
"Belle?" she heard Adam's voice call her name and she opened her eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Adam, that was so beautiful," she said. "Thank you for that. Where did you learn that song?"
Adam sat on the chair next to her, so close she could feel his warm breath, and wiped her tear away. "I didn't. I created it."
"Did you really?"
"Yes, I did," he replied merrily and Belle got the impression he was laughing at her. "I hoped you would like it."
"It was amazing!" she exclaimed. "Would you play it again for me?"
"Don't you think we should go back downstairs?" he said, tucking a stray piece of hair from her face.
"Must we? I'd really rather be with you here," she took his hand from her hair and held it between her own. She had no ambition to return to the nobles, not when she had the option to stay with Adam and the beautiful music he created for her.
"So would I. But it's only another few hours. And in a few days we'll go traveling together. You'll be tired of me in no time."
"Never," she said and leaned forward to kiss him. "But I suppose you're right, we should go back downstairs."
They returned downstairs, saw that their guests were happy, and even managed to dance a few more times together before it grew late and the guests began to leave. They had all come to say goodbye to her and Adam, even Nicole, who seemed much happier than when she and Belle last spoke. Belle suspected that her improved mood had much to do with the baron's son she had been standing beside.
Though it was late, her father and Mrs. Potts were still making their slow way around the dance floor, so Adam led Belle out the ballroom doors and into the night air.
"It's getting so warm out now," Adam commented as they stepped out onto the balcony. Belle nodded but said nothing. "Do you know," Adam continued, "That when I first brought you out here, the first night we danced together, I had planned to tell you that I loved you?"
Belle paused; no she hadn't known that. Looking back, remembering how nervous the Beast had been that night, it seemed obvious to her now. But what would she have replied had he said those words to her then? She herself had been nervous and fidgety, though never more content than she was in the Beast's presence that night.
"I didn't know that," she replied simply.
"I was running out of time to tell you because of. . .well, you know. I thought that if I couldn't tell you then, I might not ever, but I was so scared to. In a way, I'm glad I couldn't tell you then. I don't think it was the right time, though I wanted it very much to be," Adam looked up at the stars as he spoke and Belle looked at him, relieved he felt the same way.
"I would've preferred that we didn't have to go through all that we did later that night, though," Belle added, flinching as she pictured for the thousandth time Gaston stabbing her Beast, and her holding the Beast in her arms as he died. Adam's arm wrapped around her shoulders and held her close to him.
"It doesn't matter, anyway," he said. "How did you put it once: You're stuck with me now." Belle grinned and raised her face to be kissed.
"That's right," she said once her lips were free. "I'm all yours."
"And I'm yours, forever and always," he replied.
"Forever and always," she repeated, adoring the implication of those words. Their entire future was ahead of them, a life together full of adventures, and that was better than anything she had ever dreamed of.
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