The Beast watched eagerly as Belle's eyes fluttered open and widen as she took in her surroundings. He held his breath and waited her to say something about the massive library he had just presented to her.
As he waited, he recalled just that morning when he watched her walk around the grounds, unable to suppress the overwhelming joy he felt at seeing her so well again. The pangs of guilt knowing he had helped cause her injury and illness still hurt him and he wanted so badly to make up for what he had done. It went beyond that, though; he had discovered that he wanted most of all was to see her smile again as she had when she woke to find him by her bedside. So when Lumiere had told him the interest Belle had shown when she was told the castle held a library, together with the memory of the book he found by Belle's bed, he immediately decided that the library would be just the thing to provoke such a smile.
And now, he was not disappointed. Belle turned in circles around herself, her wide eyes taking in the seemingly endless shelves that held thousands and thousands of books. He never had an interest in this room before, allowing it to fall under a layer of dust and neglect. So it was with great haste that he summoned every available servant to clean the massive room. He had even joined them, rearranging some inanimate furniture and dusting off the mantle of the massive fireplace. They had finished not a moment too soon, the last of the servants fleeing as the Beast heard Belle's soft footsteps approaching.
"Do you like it?" he asked eagerly, powerless to help the smile that spread across his face as he watched her take in the room.
"It's wonderful!" she exclaimed, seemingly unable to stop turning in circles to catch every last detail.
"Then it's yours." Belle turned to him at his words, her expression one of shock and joy.
"Thank you so much!" She stepped forward to reach for his massive paws and smiled gloriously at him, her eyes shining with what could be nothing less than pure joy. The Beast realized that this was more than just the smile he had hoped for; this was a smile just for him. He had given her this happiness and his heart leapt at seeing her so elated. In the distance, he heard the library doors close and he suspected the servants had been watching them, but he didn't care. The Beast wanted nothing more than to stand like this forever, Belle's hands in his own and her joy enveloping both of them in warmth.
"You can't give me an entire library, though," she said, glancing around the massive room once more while keeping hold of his paws. "It's so much! A book or two would have been more than enough." The Beast grinned as he realized what was going on. At her words, he had begun to worry that she did not want to accept a gift from him because of what he was, but he saw that she was only worried about the extravagance of it.
"Belle, please accept it. This is a gift. Don't you like it?" He asked the question knowing what the answer was. Based on her reaction, how could she say anything against it?
"I—of course I do, but. . .Are you sure?"
The Beast couldn't help but chuckle as he nodded. It was all the reassurance she needed, instantly leaving his side to examine the shelves of books more closely. He thought to leave her alone to explore, but he couldn't bear to leave her side just yet. So he followed her at a distance, watching with amusement as she ran her hands along the book's bindings.
"You have so many books!" she exclaimed happily as she bent to read some of the titles. "I didn't know there were this many in the entire world! How did you come by them all?"
"I—uh. . ." he wasn't sure what to say. He hadn't expected her to ask questions about his past and was suddenly worried how much he should reveal. "My mother built up the library," he finally confessed.
"You're mother?" she repeated, stopping her search to glance at him curiously. "Then this is your own castle?"
"Yes," he answered shortly, not entirely sure he liked the way the conversation was going. Belle looked like she wanted to say something more, but after moment closed her mouth and turned back to the shelves. The Beast sighed with relief.
"My mother liked to read, too," she said nonchalantly as she browsed the shelves. "She used to read me fairy tales when I was very small. When I was old enough, I would read them to her, even when she. . .when she got sick." Belle's hand fell from where it had been caressing the binding of a book and her smile faded. The Beast frowned at this, worried that his gift had upset her.
"Belle?" He reached carefully for her hand and felt her fingers close around his.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking up at him with a sad sort of smile. "I just miss her sometimes, that's all."
"I understand," he muttered, surprised to find himself recalling his own mother and her untimely death when he was a small boy.
"Come," she said suddenly. "This place is far too exciting to ruin with the past. What's up here?" Her sudden burst of energy sent her flying up one of the curved staircases. Surprised by this, the Beast followed her as best he could, his bulk making it difficult to navigate the curve of the stairs. By the time he reached the top, Belle had a pile of books in her arms and a large grin on her face.
"I see you found something to read, then?" he said and was surprised when she responded with a giggle.
"One or two," she responded. "There's still a couple more I want to take as well. Would you mind holding these?" The Beast barely had time to extend his arm before he found them full of books.
"You're going to read all of these?" he asked, shocked that anyone would even think about going through all those volumes. There had to be at least fifteen in his arms, and Belle was steadily picking out more.
"Not all at once," she admitted. "But I like to keep a running pile to devour. In the village, the bookkeeper would set aside all the new books he received because he knew I would just pick them out anyway. I'll only take a few more, I promise." Belle turned to examine the shelves again and the Beast chuckled again.
"They're all yours. Take as many as you want." Minutes later, Belle turned with six or seven books in her own arms and motioned that they should return to the main floor again. The Beast followed her to the massive fireplace where Belle ignored the plush chairs and sat instead on the rug by the hearth, dumping her books into a pile in front of her. He hesitated, unsure if he should mimic her or if he should merely give her the books and leave.
"I'll need your help going through all of these," she said, looking up at him from where she sat on the floor, her green dress fanned out around her. Needing no further invitation, the Beast deposited the books in his arms to join the others and sat across from Belle on the floor, the great pile of books between them.
"Uh, what should I do?" he asked uneasily, a little overwhelmed by the mass of volumes that lay before him.
"Well, have you read any of these books?" Belle asked as she lay the books flat so their titles could be seen. The Beast did not need to look at the volumes to know that he had never read them before.
"No," he replied simply, avoiding her eyes.
"All right, then you can hold up each book for me one by one to help me decide where they will go. It will be a bit less overwhelming for me that way. If you want to, that is," she added hastily, tucking a stray hair away from her face. Instead of answering directly, he took up a blue book with gold print on the cover and held it up for Belle to examine. The book was tiny in his hands, but he made sure to keep the title visible though he could barely read it himself. Belle contemplated the book for a moment.
"Canterbury Tales, that can wait," she decided and took the book from him to start a pile to her right. The Beast repeated this action several times over, allowing Belle to focus on each one individually and place it in whatever order she deemed was best. He could find no order that was obvious to him, even as she read the titles aloud, so he supposed they were being sorted in a way that made sense only to her. Every once in a while, Belle would pause and turn to the pile she had created, switching the order of a couple of the books and mumbling to herself. The Beast watched her do this, realizing how endearing her soft muttering was to him. It seemed an odd thing to be amused by, but he didn't think too much about it.
"Oh!" she exclaimed at the next book the Beast held up. He jumped at this sudden reaction, nearly dropping the book to the floor. "King Arthur! I haven't read this since I lived in the city!" She took the book from him and started flipping through the pages eagerly.
"I thought you lived in a village?" he asked, confused. Had she lied to him for some reason?
"I do. Papa and I moved there when I was sixteen. Before that we lived in Paris. I had a friend there who I would read for hours with; we would go on picnics or read in the parlor, switching off reading chapters with each other. This was the last book we bought before I had to move. I let her keep it so she would remember me." Belle paused and the Beast was concerned she would lapse into an unhappy silence, but he needn't have worried. She seemed too excited at the discovery of what seemed like an old friend. "I'm so glad I have the chance to read this again! I would beg the bookkeeper to order it for me, but he could never find it."
"So that's first on the list to read, right?" he asked, glad that Belle had refused to be sorrowful at her memories. It wasn't that he didn't want her to keep her memories close, but it made him uncomfortable that she remembered her past so fondly and yet so mournfully. He had little experience in comforting people and was sure he would make a mess of it if he had to try to soothe Belle.
"Definitely," she confirmed. "We still have a few to go through though. I'm glad you're helping me do this. If you weren't here I would probably start reading King Arthur and leave the other poor books on the floor."
"You're welcome," he said, though noticed that his foot had started to fall asleep. He resolutely ignored it and picked up the next book.
When all the books had finally been piled to Belle's liking, the Beast could not help but sigh with relief and stood only to sit in the nearby chair to try and return circulation to his foot. It had taken nearly an hour to sort through all those books; Belle would keep changing her mind about the order or end up thumbing through some of her favorites. He was glad that she was enjoying herself, but his foot had begun to tingle unpleasantly.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, distracted from her books by his actions. He paused, somehow unwilling to admit such a simple, silly thing had happened to him, but decided he would surrender his dignity just this once.
"My foot fell asleep," he admitted with a sheepish smile.
"That happens to me all the time! Try stomping it a couple times," she suggested. "It will hurt a bit but it helps it go away faster, I think." The Beast did as she said though it felt like a thousand pins were sticking into his foot.
"Thank you," he sighed when the sensation finally left. "Have you decided what to read first? Will it be King Arthur?" He motioned to the two neatly stacked pile of books beside her, each nearly reaching her shoulder as she sat.
"I think so. . ." she said hesitantly, looking over her piles once more. "I think I want to save King Arthur after all. Perhaps I'll reread some of Grimm's fairy tales first."
"I thought fairy tales were supposed to be happy. But a man named Grimm wrote them?"
"It was two writers, brothers actually. And I never thought of it like that before," Belle giggled. "I suppose that is a bit ironic, though not all of them have happy endings. I don't read those much, though. I prefer the ones that end well. At least as far as the fairy tales are concerned. I don't mind if novels don't end well as long as the story is beautiful."
Belle continued on about what kinds of tales she preferred and why while the Beast simply sat and listened. He reflected that before Belle had found a way to warm his heart, he might have simply gotten up and left her ramblings. But now, for reasons unknown to even him, he found her opinions interesting, at least enough to show her the courtesy of paying attention. He also noticed that the more she talked about her stories, the more beautiful she seemed to become. Belle was a beauty to begin with, it was true, but when she spoke of her books her face seemed to light up, giving her a kind of ethereal glow.
"What's the matter?" he heard her ask and the Beast realized that he had been staring at her.
"Oh, uh, nothing," he stammered, embarrassed to have been caught in such odd, tender thoughts. "I just never heard anyone talk about books the way you do. It's like they're you're friends instead of just words on pages."
"Well, I guess that's sort of true. Not many people like to be seen with a woman who reads, but the characters in the stories were always far more interesting than anyone I had met anyway. Except for Clarice of course, my friend from Paris."
"Because she liked to read, too," the Beast said sourly, figuring out a bit how Belle really worked. She read to keep interesting company because those around her were too illiterate and dull, so how could he assume to be part of that elite group? He, who couldn't even read and hadn't experienced life beyond his castle in over ten years. He stood to leave before his anger could get the best of him. He should have known that he could never have won her over.
"Beast?" he heard her call to him, but he didn't stop until he slammed the library door behind him. Lacking the strength to go any further, he leaned against the door hopelessly, feeling foolish that he had even imagined an intelligent girl like Belle could lower herself to befriend him.