Chapter 1: Once Upon A Time: Belle Left
Belle feels incomplete. Adam has to make a choice.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Prince Adam was having trouble finding his princess among the crowd of well-wishers in the reception hall. The painfully shiny chandeliers lit up every face, skirt and boot of foreign merchants, dignitaries and royals; but no hair was tan enough, no lips pink enough and no eyes as enchanting as that of his new bride.
Where could she possibly be? His internal conundrum hidden behind a dazzling smile that left many speechless in its wake. As he swirled and slid through servants and guests alike, something caught his peripheral vision.
Standing within the foot-high mirror was a living statue of a man. Tall and muscular, he almost seemed to burst through the white and gold tuxedo that set off his honey-coloured ponytail and fair complexion rather nicely. But looks were deceiving: generously full lips hid sharp canines and there was something about his azure eyes and the pale bruises beneath them that spoke of a dark history. Signs that he was never quite human, and would never be again.
Expressive eyebrows wrinkled. As soon as they were done here, he'd ask Lumière to cover this mirror up too. He hated the things. But first order was to find his love.
She wasn't in the gardens, though he found a few lovers there. He couldn't find her in the atrium, nor in her bedroom (though he hadn't actually gone in out of courtesy). He had nearly convinced himself to personally inspect the drainpipes when the thought hit him. How stupid of him! How hadn't he gone there first?!
True to form, he found her in the library. She sat on the window ledge, her white gown sliding over her exposed knees and pooling on the floor below. A strand of hair fell free from her elaborate bun and swung in the air in front of her face. In proper fashion, she was reading a book: a faded blue cover. The only thing she loved more than him was that book that she had read thousands of times, but never seemed to be bored with.
Normally, as she read, she would have an expression of pure content, but now, as her fingers darted along the pages, she was frowning. An equally beautiful vision, but seeing her in such grief made the prince's heart ache.
"Belle," he said plainly, stepping into her line of vision. She looked up, startled, before gracing him with a smile.
"Adam," the name sounded stilted – and almost unwelcome – from her mouth. It wasn't her fault, for just a day ago he had been known to her as Beast; more animal than man. It was the Beast that she came to love and was doubtless still trying to find her old sweetheart in this new body. Filled with a deep tenderness, Adam rushed to her as she rushed to him and the pair pulled each other into an embrace. It was a brief re-connection of bodies, a re-acquaintance of their hearts and minds. Adam placed a soft kiss into her hair. It smelt like strawberries.
He felt her tremor against him and realised, sadly, that she was shaking as she desperately clung to him. He hurt more when he heard her stifle a sob.
"Belle? Mon amour*, what's wrong?"
She shook her head against his chest, refusing to look into his eyes, "I love you, Beast. I love you!"
Something about her tone made the prince's heart sink. He no longer used the name Beast anymore – he was trying to rebuild his life as a human, trying to erase those ten years of painful solitude. Belle knew this, supported his rehabilitation, so the fact she had reverted to his old name…
"…But this isn't what you want, is it," he said it softly so it did not sound like he was accusing her. And how could he blame her? She was young, lively and adventurous – it was not her time to settle down. She hadn't spent lonely years, pining for something, someone. It occurred to him for the first time since he'd changed that he was too caught up in their young romance that he had forced her into marriage; that the only reason she said "I do" was because she didn't want to break his heart.
She seemed to cry harder at his tone, "I – I tried, Beast, I tried! I love you, I love you so much…but I – I can't do this I –"
"Shh," Adam rubbed small circles into her back to calm her down. There was a dull pain in his chest, but what mattered most to him was her suffering. He had to make a choice now: have the love of his life, forced into a life of marital servitude, or…
"Belle, listen to me," he held her tighter, committing her feel, her smell, to memory, "I want you to go upstairs and grab a cloak."
"Take whatever you need. Cogsworth will have a horse ready for you, but you need to leave quickly –"
"– before I change my mind," Prince Adam used his thumb and forefinger to gently lift her face, pained when she lowered her eyes. Gently, he brushed away the tears. He needed to see her eyes, so he'd remember them when he'd undoubtedly regret this decision.
"Belle, please, look at me. I beg you."
Green moss gazed into blue skies with a sad freedom in them. It was almost as if they were reliving their first separation but the former Beast knew that this time, she would not come back for him. Her bottom lip trembled as fresh tears spilled down her heart-shaped face. She placed a soft kiss on the corner of her lover's mouth.
" Je t'aimerais toujours. "**
Adam fought the urge to run madly after her, drag her back by her long veil. He bit his bottom lip as a single tear slid over his cheeks to rest on his pronounced chin.
She turned abruptly, her skirts swishing at her movement. She looked panicked, almost as if she expected him to go back on his word. He threw her a pathetically tragic smile.
"No matter where you go, you'll always have a place here. With me."
She mirrored his smile, both aware that it would never be the same, even if she did return. With no other words to share, Adam helplessly watched Belle pick up her skirts and practically fly from the library. His eyes lingered on the spot she had been, long after she was no longer there. He could still hear the orchestra playing for the loud wedding guests, but he felt too weak, too strained to see them now. The past few minutes would be too fresh and raw on his face, laid out for all.
His eyes mechanically scanned the window where she had been sitting. On the pane, looking rather lonely too was her faded book. Nothing in all his years had looked so priceless.
He kept himself together long enough to touch it. The moment his fingers brushed against the bound leather, he collapsed into a heap of broken sobs.
He loved her. Too much to keep her to himself. Too much to allow himself happiness.
*Mon amour = my love
**Je t'aimerais toujours = I will love you forever/ I will always love you
Chapter 2: Once Upon A Time: A Stranger was Saved
Adam's pining for Belle is getting on everyone's last nerve. Luckily for everyone, there's an unidentified body that needs rescuing.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Master, I am telling you, you must go after her!" Lumière's thin and buckled legs were no match for his master's strong and booted calves as he followed the young man deeper into the forest. Adam, though irritated, had to admire Lumière's persistence – especially since he was going out of his way to walk the most difficult paths as fast as he could. It was at times like these when he wished he was still a monster and his servant was still a candlestick so he could frighten Lumière into silence, and bound away. Four legs were much faster than two – especially since Lumière would have to slowly hop along.
Sighing, he sharply turned left, throwing himself over a particularly large rock, slipping under some leafy branches and vaulting over some undergrowth. He turned his head in time to hear his comrade's exasperated sigh. Despite himself, Adam felt guilty. All Lumière was doing was trying to stop his master from making the biggest mistake in his life and all he had done to show appreciation was skip meals, refuse baths and run off into the woods at every possible moment. If it were not for the dear Mrs Potts who (upset with the situation and fearing his sanity) had assigned a daily servant to ensure watch over him – he would have been rotting away in the West Wing.
" Je suis tellement desolé, vraiment, but I just need a moment alone," he smiled sadly at Lumière, who did not seem to know what to say. "Go home – I'm sure Babette will be thrilled to see you."
His comrade gave a small start at the suggestion before miserably hiding a goofy grin. His expression turned serious again, "Are you sure, Master? If I leave you here you must promise not to get yourself in any trouble!"
"Yes Father," Adam allowed his smile to be a semi-tone happier, "You would think I'm the servant!"
Lumière still frowned (a comical expression on his long, animated face), waving a bony finger through the branches, "Promise or I am not leaving!"
The prince rolled his eyes. "I promise, I promise! Will you please stop worrying about me?"
Lumière withdrew his finger, a hesitant smile on his face, "Please meet me at the castle in an hour, or else that overgrown teapot will have my buns for dinner!"
Adam chuckled as he watched Lumière awkwardly make his way back to the castle, tripping and slipping as his stick legs wobbled over the leafy path. The poor man was more graceful as a candlestick, the young man thought as he continued walking off the path. Good old Lumière knew him better than anyone and would always respect his wishes – whether they were for the prince's good or not. He understood Adam's desire for solitude, even if he thought the misery was self-inflicted and unnecessary.
The sound of rushing water met the spurned prince's ears and he was somewhat soothed by the river that appeared in front of him. He looked into the far distance in the direction he came from and spotted the bridge that lead to his home, the water crashing against it and through it. He seemed far enough to allow himself a few minutes of sobbing and grass pulling before he reached into his loose white shirt and pulled out a faded blue novel. It was quite small in his large hands, but the spine fit perfectly down his palm. He flipped through the pages until he found where he was last. Finding a spot beneath a Weeping Willow on the banks of the river, Adam read.
The story was predictable, the things he had been fed as a spoiled little brat of unconditional love in the face of adversity, impossible magical happenstances and happy endings. The characters hardly evolved past falling in love and there was a particular page that had a corner missing, as if something had eaten it off. But he loved it because it was Belle's. Every page he turned, he imagined Belle turning it too as she sat in the town square. Every line he read, he could feel Belle's country-girl heart yearning for such things to happen to her. It bored him to death to read something as child-directed as this, but he felt the need to – to keep a bit of her with him; to bridge the rift of towns, ridges and valleys between him and her.
However, not even that fantasy connection could keep him from falling asleep in the warm afternoon. It was only much later, when the sun was just below the horizon, that he heard it: the sound of hooves heavy on the ground near him. The terrible neigh shocked his system into consciousness, the book falling off his face as he shot up. Still yawning and groggy, his blurry vision could make out a dark silhouette approaching fast and smoothly. His eyes adjusted in time for a demon of a pure black stallion to run past him, its burgundy leash billowing behind it and latching into the prince's boot.
Adam gave a rather girly shriek as he found himself dragged along the bank, twigs and rocks cutting into his back and whipping his face. His arms flailed helplessly to his side as he shouted and yelled for the damn creature's attention. Oh, how he wished he had claws to sink into its backside.
After several attempts, he was able to sit up straight and reach for the leash in his foot. He yanked at it, so that the horse kicked the air with its front legs and he stood. He felt something pop in his shoulder as the horse tried to bolt again.
"You little –"he tried again, nicer, "Shh…shh it's ok, boy. What's wrong?" The stallion jerked its head away from his hands, its frenzied eyes and piercing neighs focused on the river. Only now it seemed more like rapids than the peaceful current of earlier. And hopelessly lost in it, riding the current, was a body.
Without wasting a second, Adam leapt into the dark, icy blue. The water filled his lungs and he could hardly see the bubbles that escaped his lips. The ice felt like daggers digging into his clothes, attacking every sensitive pore – his balls were not saved from the torture.
He resurfaced again, his hair dripping in his eyes as he tried to reach the body. The current was advantageous and that, coupled with his hasty strokes, allowed him to reach what was now a burly man. He tried to grab the man's arm, but failed when he felt how hard and cold it was. The water kicked him back a bit and he reached again, this time digging his nails into the solid flesh. His arms cried when he tried to push the body closer to his and drape the arm over his shoulders. The body was too heavy and Adam was submerged again – this man had spent too long in the water that his body had turned blue.
Working against the current and keeping his victim above water was using all of Adam's energy as he fought for the banks. His one arm was around the man's waist, the other trying madly to get them out the water. The rapids mockingly slapped his face and blurred his vision and the roar of the water was deafening. A rather mean rapid crashed as Adam took a breath and his lungs contracted as he inhaled the water. His body slowed down and became heavy. He couldn't control his fingers.
He was going to die like this. Saving some faceless man from drowning only to die himself. The irony was not lost on him.
Then he heard it. The neigh. It would seem the stallion had continued to follow them and was now awkwardly moving in the water towards them. Had he the energy, Adam would have cried out in joy. He focused his energy on grabbing for the leash and prayed that the horse could get both of them out.
The stallion marched with a dogged determination and Adam nearly cried when his cheek roughly rubbed the grass. He couldn't feel anything, but he was certain it was amazing. Shaking himself, he turned to the bloated, blue figure on the grass next to him. He leant a shivering ear towards the man's lips to check for breathing. He panicked when he couldn't hear much.
Hands pressed to the man's chest, he put all his weight into driving down on the ribs. Once, twice, three times. Once, twice, three times. He covered the blue nose and pressed his lips to the frozen, chapped mouth. It was like kissing an icicle. He breathed, once, twice, each breath one he himself desperately needed to keep conscious. The world was spinning, but he wouldn't succumb until he knew the man was alive.
He repeated this ritual two more times before the figure seemed to take a sharp intake of breath, and cough up buckets of water. Adam rolled him over so he didn't swallow the water and looked pleadingly at the stallion, who was nudging – undoubtedly – his master's face.
"I-if you under…understand me," his voice seemed frozen too, "…castle…n-now…quick"
The horse's ears went back as if to say Oh, it understood him alright, and allowed Adam to lift the man – and himself – onto its back before charging at breakneck speed.
Adam didn't know how long far it took for them to reach his home, but they burst into the entrance hall, much to the surprise of his worried servants who had gathered there.
"MASTER!" Mrs Potts looked near tears as she pushed up to the stallion. Adam could barely register her small hand on his knee. She took one look at his wet, torn clothes, swollen and blue lips and scratched face before letting out a dismayed cry. He raised a shaking hand.
"T-this man's hurt…hel...help h-him. Plea…" he felt the world turn and was on the floor without knowing why.
His servants, his friends jostled around him and felt his forehead and pulse. Mrs Potts, Cogsworth and a very guilty-looking Lumière surrounded the other body, inspecting it then bolting upright, looking at each other in unadulterated shock.
"Is it…?" Mrs Potts stage-whispered.
"…but very likely is," Cogsworth paled.
Chip, who was at Adam's side, sidled up between the adults and gasped loudly.
"Mama, isn't that the man that tried to kill the Master?"
*Je suis tellement desolé, vraiment = I am truly sorry, really (I am).