A Change In Me

Chapter 5

The Beast gave Belle another cupful of medicine later that day as Mrs. Potts instructed and was shooed out afterwards so she and Madame Armoire could change the bandages on Belle's wound. He started to suggest that he could help with that as well, but Mrs. Potts explained that the wound was on her thigh. The Beast's face grew hot and immediately left, realizing how improper that would be.

As soon as Mrs. Potts reemerged into the hall where he waited, the Beast resumed his watch over Belle. He was still a little concerned what Belle might think when Mrs. Potts inevitably reported to her that he had sat by her side, but he could not stay away. He felt so guilty that he had done this to her, that he had allowed the wolf to harm her despite his best efforts. He wanted so badly to make things right by this brave woman, to make up for all that he had done. No one before had made him feel that way.

As night settled over the castle yet again, he realized how little he had slept in the past two days. As if sensing is weakness, his stomach gave a loud rumble to remind him that he had not eaten, either. But the servants had disappeared again, and he did not want to go even as far as the hall during this crucial time in Belle's recovery. The medicine had yet to start working and he would keep her as comfortable as possible until it did. So he only took up the fresh cloth and the cool water that Mrs. Potts had refreshed earlier, knowing that was all he could do while the medicine took effect. He was pleased to notice though that Belle's fever had finally started to cool.

Despite his efforts not to, he found that he had dozed off again, the early morning sun momentarily blinding him when he woke. Grumbling, he straightened up but realized there was a feather-light pressure on his paw. He must have fallen asleep while he tended to Belle, for his paw had fallen to the bed beside Belle, still grasping the now dry cloth. He was confused by the tiny weight he felt on the back of his paw and was shocked to find that Belle's delicate, pale hand was gently grasping his forefinger. She must have moved in her sleep, he reasoned, embarrassed to have allowed the girl to touch him. But no, when he looked up he saw Belle's deep brown eyes open and gazing at him. Belle was awake; she was alive! His heart leapt and his joy redoubled when he realized that Belle had consciously placed her hand on his. Could it be that she was no longer afraid of him?

"How are you feeling?" he asked gently, keeping as still as possible to avoid possibly frightening her still.

"Much better," she responded quietly. She still seemed exhausted and her voice was weak, but the light in her eyes confirmed that she was indeed improving.

"Good," he grunted, suddenly embarrassed to find that he wanted nothing more than to enfold her tiny hand between his own paws. "I'll let Mrs. Potts know." But when he started to get up Belle tightened her grip on his paw. It wasn't a strong hold, but the Beast let it keep him in his chair.

"Thank you," she all but whispered, the emotion clear in her tired voice.

"I didn't do anything," he insisted. "Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth—they did. . ." Belle shook her head and smiled as he spoke, but she didn't seem to have the strength to say anything more. "You should rest," he suggested as Belle's eyes blinked wearily. Belle's hand tightened again and he suppressed the urge to chuckle. "I'll stay here," he said in response to Belle's action.

The girl smiled wearily and closed her eyes, asleep again in moments. The Beast stayed with Belle's hand holding his own until her grasp slackened. Slowly, he eased out from under her hand and quickly retreated to his own chambers, making sure to alert Mrs. Potts to Belle's improved condition as he passed her. He had promised Belle that he would stay beside her, but he could not help the terror he felt at the girl's sudden willingness to be so close to him.

As he made his way between the broken furniture and old bones that littered the West Wing, he looked at the paw that Belle had held. He had never imagined that, after the way he had chased her out of this very room, she could find it in her heart to even be near him, let alone touch him. It couldn't be possible that she could see past his monstrous exterior and horrible mistakes.

He walked out onto the balcony, ignoring the glowing, wilting rose that controlled his fate and instead gazed out upon the castle grounds. Somehow, he had made amends with this beautiful, strong woman and he was terrified of doing something that would shatter their delicate new relationship. He tried to reason that if he wasn't around her, then he could not possibly do anything to drive her away. Except that he desperately wanted to be near her.

The excuse to be near her came just hours later when Mrs. Potts cautiously called to him from the door. "Belle needs your help taking the medicine," the kindly teapot informed him. "She's still weak and unable to lift the cup herself." Without a word, the Beast nodded and made his way back down to Belle's room, his heart inexplicably beating faster as he approached her door.

"You said you would stay," her small, tired voice met his ears as he entered through opened the door. She sounded indignant, but when the Beast looked at her she was smiling.

"I had some things to attend to," he muttered and picked up the earthenware cup Mrs. Potts stood beside.

"I'm sorry I had to bother you with this," Belle apologized as he picked the cup up. The Beast paused and looked at her in surprise.

"I don't mind," he finally said. "You've been through a lot because of me." Belle said nothing as the Beast once again helped her drink. She grimaced as she swallowed the medicine.

"It tastes awful," she sighed.

"It saved your life," the Beast said, starting to become angry that she should dismiss the medicine his servants had risked their lives for.

"So did you," she retorted pleasantly. "You all did." The Beast could think of nothing to say, so he remained silent.

"You should rest, my dear," Mrs. Potts broke the silence between them. "Best not to push yourself just yet."

"When can I get out of bed?" she asked, clearly impatient to move about again.

"A couple days, I should think," Mrs. Potts replied. "As long as you rest now."

"But. . ."

"She is right," the Beast interrupted. "You should rest." He stood and made his way to the door, cloak billowing behind him in his haste.

"Wait," Belle called as his paw touched the handle of the door. He half turned, interested in what she had to say. "Thank you for what you did." Her voice was clear and honest and the Beast's heart warmed at the sound.

"You're welcome," he grunted amiably and hastened around the door out of the room.

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