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What Might Have Been

Chapter Text

     Marmion was not like the other boys in town.

     While his four brothers preferred to go hunting and bragging around the village, Marmion preferred to do things that were less loud, like reading, sewing, practicing calligraphy, and listening to the stories his mother liked to tell. She'd weave the most beautiful tales about far-off places, magic spells, and castles full of wonderful things. He was her little prince; she'd tell him every day. And sometimes those two words were enough to help him endure the taunts from his father and his brothers.

     That was literally Marmion's life: staying inside with his mother, renting books from the library, and sometimes—on the darkest of nights, when Monsieur d'Arque was making his rounds—sneaking into the asylum to visit his grandfather. He would smuggle the old man bread and muffins from his mother and tell him all the stories she had told him. And in return, the old man would tell Marmion stories about a terrifying creature, one that was ten feet tall and had razor-sharp teeth and claws.

     “Your mother was once taken captive by this beast,” he said one night, “but she managed to soften his heart and make him kind again. She told me herself that she had fallen in love with him.”

     “What happened?” asked Marmion, leaning in closer. The old man sighed.

     “Your father…” And that was all Marmion needed to hear to figure out the rest. He'd asked his mother who the Beast was the next day, but her reaction was not what he expected.

     She gasped and dropped the dish she was supposed to be washing, where it shattered on the stone floor of their lodge. “Who told you about that?” she asked.

     “Grandfather at the asylum,” Marmion answered innocently. “Is the Beast real? Did you really love him?”

     That was when his mother got a faraway look in her eye, a look that could only be described as true love. Marmion had never seen his mother look so young and full of life. She never looked at his father that way. She never looked at anyone that way.

     “Yes,” she finally said. “He's real. And I still love him. I know that more than anything.”

     “But…” Marmion's eyebrows knit together, confused. “Don't you love Father, too?”

     There was no reply.

     “Oh,” Marmion said quietly. It was pretty easy to figure out. Even though he was only ten years old, he knew enough to know that his mother didn't truly love his father. It was sad, but…it couldn't be helped.

     “Tell me about the castle,” Marmion exclaimed, changing the subject. There was still a good deal of time left before his father and his brothers returned from hunting. “Please?”

     “…Alright, then,” his mother replied, after a small pause. “Sit down and I'll tell you.”

     And so Marmion's mind was once again opened to the wonders of what seemed like a fairy-tale: an enchanted castle, furniture that could walk, talk, and sing, and the Beast…he was rather awkward at first, but he slowly blossomed into a lovable and lonely creature. She had danced with him, and made friends with the castle staff. Marmion felt like he was being whisked away into another world. But soon, they both heard the brisk knocking on the door that signaled his father and brothers' return.

     “Marmion, answer the door, will you?” asked his mother, jumping up to finish the dishes. “And keep this between us.”

     "Alright, Mother,” Marmion answered, and quickly ran to the door to open it. In came his brothers, all in red capes and bold colors, each dragging a couple small dead animals—already gutted and cleaned—behind them. They shouldered roughly past Marmion, knocking him to the ground as they showed off their kills to their mother and argued over who caught the best ones. Mother praised them all and patted them on the head, but then in came his father with a huge deer over one shoulder. All Marmion could think about was that there would be one more set of antlers added to the collection in his father's...well, he wouldn't call it a study...it was more like a prize-room. In their lodge, there was an entire room full of heads of all the beasts Gaston had bested, and most of them had antlers. Sometimes random people would come in just to admire them.

     “Marmion! This is the third time I've called you!”

     Marmion blinked out of his daydream and turned to his father, who was staring at him impatiently. “Yes, Father?” he asked. “I'm sorry.”

     “What have you done all day?” his father asked. “The townspeople didn't see you outside.”

     “I was helping Mother with the housework,” Marmion answered, and immediately winced at the angry look on his father's face.

     “When will you learn to be a man, like the rest of your brothers?” asked his father, laying his huge, strong hands on Marmion's shoulders. “Look at Burkett; he made his first kill today!” Burkett was eleven years old, the second-youngest in the family, and he proudly waved a small squirrel over his head when his father mentioned his name. “It's high time you stop daydreaming and get out there with the rest of your brothers. Next week, you'll join us. By then I'll have a bow made for you.”

     “What?!” Marmion shrieked. “No, please, Father! I can't do that!”

     Marmion didn't just stay with his mother because he liked her more than his brothers; Marmion wouldn't dare venture into the forest. The dark shade of the trees, the winding paths, and the thought of other creatures with sharp claws…the entire idea just frightened him half to death. Other humans, like his brothers or Monsieur d'Arque he could handle. But the woods? No. Never. Anything but that.

     “Don't disobey me,” his father said darkly. “You know I worry for you. Every day you spend inside means another day wasted in the real world. You'll never learn to fend for yourself unless you face your fears and get out there. Stay in here for another month and you start talking about plates that can sing.” He cast meaningful glance at his wife, who ducked her head and continued washing the dishes. “You will join your brothers on the hunt next week. Do I make myself clear?”

     Marmion hated when his father got like this. He was already scary enough, being three times Marmion's height and twice his width. But when he was angry, he was downright terrifying. Enough to make tears pool in a young child's eyes. But Marmion had been trained from the time he was three to never cry. Crying wasn't a very manly thing to do.

     “Yes, Father,” he whispered.

     “Good!” his father boomed, clapping his son on the shoulder. “Fear not, I'll get those silly thoughts out of your head in no time!”

     And with that, his mother cooked dinner, and the boys were sent outside to play with the dogs. They were hunting dogs, though, offspring of his father's original bloodhound. They were vicious, and how his brothers could stand to be around them Marmion had no idea. Those claws, those huge rows of razor-like teeth…Marmion certainly couldn't stand to be around them. So he hid in the cellar, reading one of his favorite books by the light of a candle. It was the same book that his mother had gotten from a kind book-keeper forever ago. Back when she used to smile, the villagers said. But they were grateful that she had a man like his father to put her in her place. Thanks to Gaston, everything was as it should be.

     If the villagers really thought like that, then how long would it be before they tried to straighten him out? Marmion didn't want to know. Maybe if he gathered the courage he needed to go into the woods, he and his mother and grandfather could run away together and live somewhere else.

     Wouldn't that be a wonderful fairy-tale. But no. If his father was right about one thing, it was that fairy-tales only existed in books. There was no such thing as magic, or talking furniture.

     But there were such things as castles and beasts. And Marmion clung to that truth like a lifeline. It was all he had to believe in.

Chapter Text

     “Come on, you have the strength for it! Pull!”

     Marmion's brow furrowed as he pulled back the string on his bow. But he was only able to make it a few inches before the string twanged back into place. The bow his father had had made for him was just too big and the string too tight; he couldn't move it.

     “I can't, Father,” he complained. “I've never even handled a weapon before!”

     “And it's not too late to start now,” his father urged. “Look at your brothers; they're doing fine!”

     His father was right, of course; they could all fire an arrow or shoot a gun to some extent. But Marmion could see that there was still hesitancy in Burkett's aim, and his little arms shook when he handled the pistol that the gunsmith had made for him.

     Marmion was sure that with some practice, he could successfully fire an arrow at whatever he wanted. But as he watched his brothers fire at unsuspecting rabbits, squirrels, and—worst of all—baby deer, he felt like he was going to be sick. It was bad enough that they were already under the trees of the woods practicing…but Marmion didn't want to kill anything.

     “Come now, boys, you're not leaving anything for Marmion to shoot at,” his father said with a laugh. “Don't you want him to have some fun too?”

     A few looks from his brothers told Marmion that they most certainly did not want him to hunt with them. But the eldest brother, Corbin, sighed and pointed at something that was out of Marmion's line of sight. Immediately every noise in the hunting party died down as they stared at whatever it was Corbin had pointed at. His father narrowed his eyes and smiled, clapping Marmion on the shoulder—hard. “Now's your chance, boy,” he whispered, handing Marmion the bow he had dropped. “This might be the best catch of the month…”

     It was a young doe. Her auburn fur danced when she stepped under the small patches of sunlight that penetrated the forest's roof. Her legs were skinny, yet graceful and delicate as she trotted over to a stream to drink. Her ears were black and each the size of her face, making her look young and innocent. Marmion had never seen a creature so beautiful.

     “What?” he asked softly, looking down at the bow his father had just dropped into his hands. And then the full realization of what his father wanted him to do finally settled in. “No. No, Father, I can't—!”

     “Nonsense, any child of mine can kill a creature that small,” his father said. “Here, I'll help you.”

     Before Marmion could protest, his father had his hands wrapped around Marmion's, pinning one hand to the handle and the other hand to the string. Marmion struggled weakly, but his father was too focused on the deer to notice Marmion at all.

     “Now, you pull the string back like this...” His father pulled Marmion's hand—and the string back an impossible length. Marmion knew that he would never be able to pull a string back that much. “...then you aim. I like to go for the liver, but the head might be easier in this case. And then…”

     It was at this moment that a twig snapped near them. It could have been another animal, it could have been one of Marmion's brothers, but whatever it was didn't matter. What mattered was that the doe turned from the stream and looked straight at him. Her eyes were completely black, soft, and peaceful. She stared at him, at his father, at the bow they were pointing at her, and then back at him. Her eyes were sweet, sorrowful. Pleading.

     “...you let go!”

     “NO!” Marmion screamed, his cry shattering the tension around them. But it was too late; his father released the arrow, where it buried itself in one of the doe's eyes. Marmion's own eyes widened as the doe slumped to one side, the soft light gone from its face. It was just a shell now; a corpse.

     And he didn't do anything to stop it.

     “No! No no no no no nO NO NO NO!” Marmion yelled, teetering on the edge of hysteria. “How could you?!”

     “Shut up,” one of his brothers snapped. “You're gonna scare everything else away!”

     Marmion kept reliving the moment over and over in his head. He couldn't do anything, he had been powerless to stop it. If only he had fought more, maybe she would still be alive…

     “Marmion!” yelled his father. “What in hell was that? Why did you scream?!”

     Marmion couldn't answer; he was too scared to properly look his father in the eye, much less calm down at all.

     “Look at your father when he's talking to you!” his father bellowed. LOOK AT ME!”

     Marmion did, and he gasped. He had never seen his father this angry in his entire life. His mouth was pulled back into a snarl, his teeth were bared and his eyes raged with blue fire. He looked just like the monsters in his nightmares.

     He reached for him, but Marmion turned tail and ran. Fear and terror drove him forward, and this time the fear of his father was greater than his fear of the woods. And with every step he took, his fear only urged him to run faster. So before long, he was full-on sprinting through the trees. He ran until he could no longer hear the cries of his father and of his siblings, and still ran. His chest felt like it was being squeezed with a metal fist, his legs felt like jelly, and still he ran. Fear was a wonderful motivator.

     Before long, he saw that the trees were thinning, getting less and less. And then he stopped, noticing that the ground just...ended. The entire land had dropped off into a cliff. Marmion looked around, trying to see if there was some kind of way across, and his heart skipped a beat. There, with a moat across the cliff, stood a castle with ivory walls and crimson rooftops. It stood there in the sun, but for some reason, no light seemed to fall on it. It was alone, gloomy, and a little spooky. But Marmion only faltered for a moment before he proceeded to make his way across the moat. He didn't know what it was that was pushing him to enter, but he was beyond fear at this moment. In fact, he was feeling way too many things at once.

     “Please help! Let me in,” he yelled, weakly banging against the door. But he only had to touch the doors once for them to creak open slowly. Marmion staggered in, wheezing for air and out of breath, before his legs finally gave out and he collapsed on the threshold.

     Not even knowing what awaited him when he would finally come to.

Chapter Text

     “Marmion, it's a new day. It's time to wake up.”

     “Mother…?” Marmion mumbled, and coughed. He felt drained, both physically and mentally, but from what he couldn't remember. Had Father and the others already gone out for the day? Did he have a cold?

     He squinted in the dim lighting and slowly sat up. “Mother? Where are…?”

     This wasn't his house, nor was his mother watching over him. All he could see were dusty old walls, long dark corridors, and grey light swimming weakly through high-up windows.

     Suddenly the events of the previous day came rushing back to him, and he jumped to his feet with a start, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. He coughed and spluttered, blinking furiously to clear his eyes. Father was going to be so angry with him when he returned! And Mother...Marmion feared her heart would break if he didn't…he sighed. Being caught between escaping his father and hurting his mother was not a good place to be in. He sighed and tried to brush the pine needles, thorns, and dust from his clothes. There wasn't any time to think about that. Right now, he had to figure out why he had run here, of all places. This castle was obviously abandoned, and had been for at least a couple years.

     Marmion hesitantly crept through the halls, trying to find a sign that someone had been here recently, but his hope quickly died when he saw that his own shoes made footprints in the dust behind him. Where his feet should have echoed on the floor there was only silence and darkness to swallow every sound he made. From what he could see, the castle was gold, gold leaves and vine-like designs on the ceilings and against the blue?—grey?—white?—walls. Tarnished chandeliers with heaps of wax trailing out of them hung from the high, vaulted ceilings, and torches lined the walls, their wicks just black smears at their bases.

     After trying to find his way through the labyrinth of corridors, Marmion came upon what looked like a ballroom…and was instantly greeted with a rather strange and out-of-place scene.

     There was a wardrobe in the ballroom. Not something you'd see everyday.  It was a nice, muted shade of blue, with gold linings and designs on it from top to bottom. There was a small part near the top that Marmion could only reach if he stood on tiptoe—it looked like it could open like window-shutters. It was very bright and shiny compared to the rest of the castle…but so were the other objects in the room, which Marmion felt drawn to.

     Right next to the wardrobe there was a piano—no, a harpsichord; the keys were black instead of white—the same shade of blue as its predecessor. The attached stand for the music was an elaborate network of gold wiring and two candles that seemed to be in better shape than the others Marmion had seen. He put a hesitant hand out to press one of the keys—a lot of them seemed to be missing, despite its otherwise nice look—and drew it back when a strong E-flat resounded through the room. Despite the clearness of the note, the wooden keys were icy cold to the touch and sent a shiver up Marmion's spine.

     Moving on, he saw that there was a cart by the harpsichord's side, with a small china teapot and a teacup on top of it. They were both white with gold and purple designs painted on them. Marmion didn't know why, but he felt an odd sense of loneliness when he looked at them. Perhaps he was reminded of the tea set back at home—it was white, just like these two—and how he and his mother would have tea together and talk about the books hidden underneath the floorboards…he shook his head and moved towards the ballroom's entrance. He didn't want to think about home, he would only think of his father's wrath.

     But right when he was about to leave the ballroom, he saw a mantel clock sitting on a ledge just outside the door. Marmion came closer to check the time, and as he stretched out his hand to wipe the dust away from the clock-face something happened. When he saw that the time was twenty minutes until four, the minute and hour hands stopped moving.

     It was for a few seconds that they shuddered in place...but then they resumed their normal movement. Marmion's shoulders slumped. “It's broken,” he muttered. “Bother, I don't even know if this time is right…”

     He moved to leave the ballroom again, but one final thing—well, two final things—caught his eye on the other side of the ballroom's threshold. Resting on one of the ledges was a candelabra with an unlit candle in each of its three holders. Upon looking closer, he noticed that the base of the middle—or second—candle-holder was carved in the shape of a face that stared blankly at something Marmion could not see. Leaning against it was a white feather-duster with an ornately carved bird handle.

     “Huh…” Marmion looked around, trying to find maybe some old wood or something that he could use to light a fire. But after finding nothing, he reached for the candelabra anyway.

     And almost dropped it as the candles flared to life the moment he touched it. He let out a sound of exclamation and took several steps back.

     Nothing had changed; the candelabra and the duster both stayed the same, the only difference was that the candles were now brightly lit. Marmion stared at his own hands in wonder, and back to the candles. Was it something he did? There was no way that thing could have lit up by itself…

     “Strange,” he murmured. “How did that…?”

     For several minutes he stared at it, wondering if the candles would go out or if he should pick it up despite its “reaction” to his touch. He glanced out at the dark halls of the castle, and chose practicality over uncertainty. He wrapped his hands around the candelabra's base—it was slightly heavier than he expected—and continued into the halls of the abandoned castle.

     Before he knew it, he found himself going up rather than through, and then he came upon a room that was more dark and gloomy than the entirety of the castle—at least that he'd seen. There were no doors to push open, but he ventured forward anyway…

     …and nearly lost his balance on a strip of fabric that was laying on the floor. Marmion gripped the candelabra tightly, holding it as high above his head as he could, but it was no use; he could see next to nothing in this room. He almost turned around, but something made him stop. It could have been a trick of the light, but there was something deep in the room that made all of the hairs on his neck stand up. It wasn't frightening, just…foreign. Odd. And it was curiosity that drove him forward.

     When he finally found what he was looking for, he started, for it was not what he thought it would be at all. It was a glass case on a table, decorated with what looked like frost. Inside the case there stood—no, not stood, floated (was such a thing possible?)—a green stem. At the bottom of the case were thirty or so dried up rose petals. Marmion had the feeling that if he touched one of them it would disintegrate, so he refrained from doing so.

     A strange picture was forming in his mind. The castle, the candelabra, and this dead, floating flower…they were all connected somehow, but there was one huge piece missing, and that was that something had happened, but what…

     And then he heard the snore.

     It was a deep and resonating sound, one that filled the whole room. Marmion froze and stared ahead, holding the candelabra out in front of him. The light revealed a bare outline of a sleeping form that moved with each rasping breath it took.

     It wasn't human. But it was alive.

     Marmion clapped a hand over his mouth to stop the sound of his own breath, but in doing so, he transferred the weight of the candelabra to one hand, and by that time his hands had gotten sweaty out of fear—he couldn't hold it.

     CLANG.

     The sound of the gold?—brass?—metal hitting the tile floor was like the sound of a cannon going off in the silence. And it wasn't a sound to be overlooked.

     The creature jerked up and turned its massive, horned head towards Marmion. Fangs protruded from its huge, furry face and its eyes…

     …fierce blue eyes, just like…

     Marmion screamed, darting around the creature and out into the somewhat-more-lit part of the castle. He dared glanced over his shoulder, only to find that the animal—creature—thing—had stood up and was reaching for him with claws the size of playing darts.

     Marmion ran back into the ballroom and looked around for something he could use to defend himself. His eyes fell on an old coat-hanger and he was just wondering if he could lift it when he heard the thundering of paws against the tile and suddenly the creature was in the ballroom with him.

     “S-stay back!” yelled Marmion, his entire body quaking in fear.  "Don't—please don't—!"

     Again the beast reached for him, but something was different this time. “N…nnnn…no…”

     Marmion's racing nerves slowed. Did it just speak?

     “No,” the creature said again, withdrawing its claws. It was then that Marmion could see that the creature was actually wearing a white shirt and blue trousers, like a human being would. “I…I didn't mean…to frighten you.”

     Slowly, Marmion's fear ebbed as his brow furrowed. “…What?” he whispered hesitantly. “Who are…no, wait…”

     Grandfather's words echoed in Marmion's mind. Your mother was once taken captive by this beast, but she managed to soften his heart and make him kind again.”

     Could it be? It couldn't really be…?

     “You're…the Beast?” Marmion whispered.  "From the stories?"

     The creature blinked slowly. “Y…yes,” it said, “I suppose?  What stories?”

     “Oh,” Marmion responded simply, and the world turned upside down and black for the second time that day.

Chapter Text

     The soft colors of a painted ceiling were what greeted Marmion when he awoke. For a moment, he stared up at them, wondering if he was in heaven. But then, he turned his head and saw that he was not alone; the Beast was sitting at his left, his blue gaze fixated on the wall. Marmion stiffened, trying to make it look like he was still asleep, but his initial fear began to fade when he examined the Beast more closely.

     It was hard to look past the twisted horns on his head and the huge fangs protruding from his lower lip, but when Marmion looked into his eyes, he found that there was no blood-lust or dumb rage there; he seemed gentle, kind…and incredibly sad, like he had lost something important to him.

     He seemed to possess the same kind of sentience that Marmion had seen in the doe…he squeezed his eyes shut at the thought of that poor creature. Being unable to do anything to stop it, not worth it, useless

     "Oh, you're awake.”

     Marmion opened his eyes, and saw that the Beast had finally turned to look at him. His expression hadn't changed, and Marmion began to wonder just what was eating away at this creature. He had a castle away from all the horrors of the world, and though it needed some work, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes on in his entire life.

     Straight out of a page of fiction, a daydream made reality.

     “I'm sorry,” Marmion finally said, once he had found his voice. “For trespassing, I mean.”

     For a moment, the Beast stared at him with a hint of confusion in his expression. Then he leaned back and shook his great, furry head.

     “You're welcome here,” he replied. “Stay as long as you want…though I don't have much in the way of food if you're staying long.”

     Marmion blinked, wondering why the Beast was being so nonchalant about it…he didn't seem the type. “Are you…all alone up here?” asked Marmion. “Doesn't the village know about this place?”

     “The village?” The Beast let out a short noise which Marmion supposed was a laugh. “The village turns a cold shoulder when it comes to a creature like me.” Then, almost like an afterthought, “Every single one of them.”

     “Well, I come from the village,” Marmion stated. “And I've heard stories about you.”

     Oh,” the Beast said after a pause. “That's what you meant by stories. They're nothing to smile at, I take it.”

     Marmion's eyes narrowed. Was this the Beast his mother spoke of? He didn't seem to have much faith in the outside world, or anyone at all. The way he was talking was like he expected Marmion to put him down at any moment. “I love hearing stories about you,” he retorted. “Aren't you the Beast that learned to love a farm girl, took her on the adventure of a lifetime, and in the end let her go?”

     The Beast snorted. “Once, perhaps. But not anymore. All you're hearing are fantasies. I have a library full of them, if you want to look at those for more interesting material.”

     Marmion blinked, not believing what he was hearing. Only a week ago he had heard tales of how wonderful and unique the Beast was. This couldn't be him; this creature was sad and bitter. It was rather depressing compared to his mother's words.

     “Did you know she tried to come back to you?” asked Marmion. “She tried, but my…someone else told her he was dead, and married her off to a man she still doesn't love. She told me herself.”

     It was then that the Beast turned to fully look at him for the first time. In his expression rested an emotion that Marmion could not name—not sadness, nor happiness…something in between. “Belle?” he said, like it was the first light of day on a clear morning. “You know her?”

     “Of course I know her,” Marmion answered. “She's my mother.”

 

Chapter Text

“Of course I know her,” Marmion answered. “She's my mother.”


     The Beast's expression changed completely. For a moment, Marmion was afraid the Beast was going to shout at him—he looked stunned, shocked, and completely horrified. That was the same look his father had given him when he had told him he didn't want to be a hunter and wanted to do calligraphy instead. After that…well, he didn't like to think about what happened after that.

     It was his mother who had stepped in before his father got too harsh, told him that she would try to sort him out. She of course did nothing of the sort, but instead encouraged him by giving him old pens that her father used to have, and showed him a loose board in the lodge to hide them under. For years it was him and her vs his brothers and father; it was a quiet battle, but his mother was strong, and he followed along after her because he knew what the village did not—that she was completely in her right mind.

     Then the Beast abruptly rose to his feet, which made Marmion jump. “Come,” he said gruffly (but wasn't everything he said gruff?), grabbing the candelabra that Marmion had dropped from a nearby nightstand. Marmion obediently jumped down from the bed and trotted after him, trying to keep up with his long strides.

     The castle seemed so much bigger than before as they walked through hallways, numerous ballrooms, and open balconies. Marmion kept trying to see if there was anyone else hiding behind the enormous pillars, or the arrases, but he and the Beast seemed to be the only ones inhabiting the castle at all. It made the place feel spooky and standoffish, like they were being watched, but not from any living eye.

     “Where are we going?” Marmion asked hesitantly.

     “Somewhere your…your mother used to love,” the Beast replied, stuttering a little on the word 'mother'. “I wonder if you'll enjoy it as much as she did.”

     Marmion gasped, somehow already knowing what the secret was. “Is it the library you mentioned earlier?” he asked eagerly. “I love books, they're like second homes to me!”

     The Beast sighed, sounding content for the first time since Marmion met him. Obviously, Marmion's last comment had triggered an old memory. “Well then, if you like it so much…” He trailed off, shook his head, and pushed open a heavy set of doors. Marmion coughed and fanned at the cloud of dust that the movement created; it was like the room had never been entered before. Hesitantly, Marmion ventured inside.

     “I can't see anything…it's so dark in here!”

     “Wait a moment,” came the Beast from further in.

     How did he manage to get that far in so fast? wondered Marmion, but before he could think anything else, a sudden blast of light made Marmion avert his eyes. When he looked back, he saw that the Beast had thrown back an enormous set of curtains and let the light from the outside in. Most of the clouds had parted to reveal the day's golden hour, right before the sun began its descent.

     That usually would have made Marmion scared about how long he'd been away from the village, but instead, his heart started pounding. He had never seen so many books in one room! There were big, thick volumes, small packets, and everything in between. The jackets varied in color, though they were mostly rustic, earthy shades of color, lined with gold leaf. Everything was bathed in the sun's rich light, making even the floating dust particles look like glitter. It was just so…magical.

     “You have everything,” Marmion whispered, though his voice echoed through the library. “You're so lucky…” He stood in the center of the room, afraid to touch any of the books, just in case he was still dreaming and the illusion would shatter.

     “Not everything,” the Beast muttered, going back to stand at Marmion's side. “I've always been cursed to be alone, even before the villagers came here last.”

     The Beast was no doubt talking about the time the villagers stormed the castle because of his mother's “outrageous” claims. Marmion's brow furrowed. He heard a lot of strange things every time he heard the villagers talk about it, but they always cleared it up by claiming that they must have started hallucinating in the heat of the moment. Marmion didn't know exactly what had happened, but it was a story he had always wanted to hear…especially since his mother never wanted to talk about it, and his father always told it in a way that was obviously over-exaggerated.

     “What happened?” he asked. “That night, I mean.”

     For a moment, Marmion was sure that the Beast didn't want to answer. The silence that he received was almost tangible. He didn't retract his comment though; he really wanted to know. Yet when the Beast spoke, Marmion's eyebrows raised in surprise.

     “There was a hunter,” the Beast started, “with long black hair and a red tunic.”

     Father, Marmion thought to himself.

     “He came to the castle with the other villagers, all with their pitchforks and torches. My servants put up a fight as best they could, but the man still made his way up to me. I couldn't fight him…he was too strong.”

     Marmion noticed immediately that the Beast was lying. He was a good deal taller than Marmion's father was, and Marmion could see that the Beast possessed strength to match his father's, if not overcome it. However, he didn't comment. He wanted to hear the rest of the story.

     “I managed to knock his bow out of his reach, but he drew a knife, and he stabbed me…here.” The Beast drew back his shirt to show Marmion a small pink line that stood out against the deep brown fur. “I thought I was done for…and so did he. He just…cleaned the knife and walked away.”

     Marmion's eyes widened. That wasn't how his father told it at all—in his version, the Beast put up a huge fight, and had to be stabbed several times before finally going down. Of all the things to lie about…!

     “I could have died. I should have died.” The Beast stood up and began to pace around the room, breathing heavily. “But she still had one more trick left…so determined to let me live my entire life as a monster…I should have known escape wouldn't be so easy!”

     Marmion scrambled backward at the sight of the Beast's anger. He had thought at first that the Beast was talking about his mother, but now he knew the Beast was talking about a very different “she”. Who was it? Someone from his past, maybe? Before he met Marmion's mother? Did “she” have something to do with the floating stem he saw in that one room?

     There were so many pieces of this puzzle that didn't add up; in fact, there were more pieces than he thought.

     But just then, the Beast turned his furious expression toward Marmion, and he flinched, covering his head with his hands, expecting the Beast to lash out at him. But he was only met with empty silence. Hesitantly, Marmion peeked around his hands to see the Beast standing and staring at him.

     “Why are you cowering like that?” the Beast asked in a voice that a tad gentler than the near roar it had been several seconds ago. “I'm not going to hit you, or anything to that effect.”

     “Um—sorry.” Marmion slowly put his hands at his sides. “It's for…protection. Usually when there's yelling in my house…you don't want to be in the same room when it happens.”

     The Beast's face softened. “That's…horrible,” he said slowly. “I'm sorry.”

     Marmion shrugged. He'd learned to survive for this long, hadn't he? It wasn't a good life, but, well…it was life.

     Marmion shook his head. He didn't want to talk about this…wait. Suddenly a detail from the Beast's story popped into his head. “You…you said your servants put up a fight,” he remembered. “So you do have servants. But this castle seemed abandoned when I came in here…so where are they?”

Chapter Text

     The Beast turned away the moment the question came out of Marmion's mouth. He didn't speak, only turned to sit down in one of the chairs that huddled around a nearby table. If Marmion didn't know better, he'd say the Beast looked a tad shaken by it. Once again, he had touched on a topic that was probably best not to discuss. But again, Marmion did not back down. Now that he knew the Beast wasn't going to harm him, he felt comfortable asking questions. That was what his mother had taught him: asking questions was the only way you'd learn. His father would laugh it off, but Marmion always saw the wisdom in his mother's words. She really was a lot smarter than her family gave her credit for.

     “Did they leave?” Marmion asked gently. “It looks to me like you really cared for them.”

     “Yes…they did,” the Beast whispered. “In a manner of speaking.”

     “I'm sorry,” Marmion replied. “I've never had any friends, but I bet your servants were yours, huh?”

     “They weren't my friends,” the Beast said, his voice a little louder this time, deep and full of regret. “They were my family. They raised me, after my mother and father died. They did everything they could, but I…I treated them so horribly…” His massive paws came up to cover his face. “…and I never got to apologize for acting the way I did.”

     No one had visited the castle since the village marched on it fifteen years ago, and Marmion didn't know what kind of creature the Beast had been before Marmion's grandfather had stumbled across him. But right now, Marmion knew he was looking at an orphan, one full of remorse for his actions. He had only known loneliness and pain. For all Marmion knew, this was the first time the Beast had even said those words out loud. It made him seem more…human.

     Softly, tentatively, Marmion approached the Beast's figure. After laying a hand on his back, Marmion noticed that he was shaking, probably trying to hide tears. This was a moment of weakness that Marmion had not seen in him yet. Though now he suspected that there might be many more to come. So after some slight hesitation, Marmion tried to hug him. But his small arms couldn't even wrap around the Beast's hulking figure; it was a vain attempt.

     But one the Beast took notice of. Immediately he stiffened, and Marmion's instinct told him to let go, but he didn't. For some reason, he felt like he was being guided, like there was some force pushing him on. And after a few seconds, the Beast relaxed again and shifted in his chair slightly, allowing Marmion to more easily wrap his arms around him. And after a few more seconds, Marmion felt the Beast's paw—huge, but exceedingly gentle—at his back.

     It was a completely new feeling for both of them. Marmion had only ever been embraced by his mother, who shared his small, lithe frame. What his father called a hug was mainly just a few seconds where Marmion tried not to gasp for breath as his feet dangled a foot or so above the ground. This was something in between: he could feel the raw power and strength in the Beast, but he wasn't trying to hurt Marmion—it was a show of kindness and acceptance. And then there was the fur, which made him feel like he was being wrapped in a big, warm blanket. There was a split second when Marmion wondered if he would’ve gotten hugs like this all the time if his mother had arrived at the castle in time.

     But that was in the past; there was no changing the past.

     After a few more seconds, Marmion pulled away slowly. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, “about your family. And I know that what I did was—well, probably unexpected—”

     “It's all right,” the Beast replied, cutting him off, but not unkindly. “I'd forgotten what it felt like. Thank you.”

     Marmion grinned; at last, he was getting somewhere! Looking at him now, Marmion could see the creature that his mother talked about: kind, lovable, and yes, perhaps a tad awkward. “You're welcome.”

     “Would you like to meet them?” asked the Beast suddenly.

     “The servants?” asked Marmion. I thought he said they left…

     “If you'd like to, I could…introduce you,” the Beast said, though his voice remained a little wary and doubtful. “They're still here…at least that's what I'd like to think.”

     “Oh.” Maybe he has pictures of them somewhere, thought Marmion. Those would be interesting to see… “Why not?” he continued out loud. “That'd be nice.”


     “I've been down here before,” Marmion remarked as the Beast led him downstairs to the first floor of the castle. They were nearing the ballroom that Marmion had stumbled upon when he first awoke in the castle. “Where are we going?”

     The Beast's stride faltered. The ballroom,” he said softly. “I think you've already met them, in a way.” And then, more to himself than to Marmion, “This will be difficult to explain.”

     “Already met them?” repeated Marmion. “But the only person I've seen around here is you.”

     “Like I said,” the Beast replied, “this will be difficult to explain.” He turned around to face Marmion and handed him the candelabra that he was holding, not noticing that the flames seemed to burn just a little brighter at Marmion's touch. Marmion grasped it, realizing that it was the same one he had found in the ballroom. It was definitely different than the ones that decorated the walls of the castle; none of them had that unique, sculpted face near the base of the second candle. If Marmion looked at it long enough, it almost seemed like…

     Wait a minute.

     “Hold on,” Marmion glanced from the candelabra to the Beast as he made the connection. “You're not saying…but there's no way…”

     The Beast didn't deny it. Instead, he turned around and laid his paws on the door handles. “That's Lumière,” he said, and flung the doors open.

     Marmion had thought that the talking furniture part in his mother's story was just something she had added to make it seem more lighthearted and carefree. He never imagined that that was actually a truth. So when the doors thudded against the wall, Marmion stepped back a bit, unprepared for what he might see on the other side of the threshold.

     Nothing had changed. The objects were exactly where they were when Marmion first saw them. With the Beast's comment seconds earlier, Marmion expected them to all…well, did talking furniture move, or did it just speak? He didn't know what he wanted to see—perhaps just a show of sentience. No such thing happened.

     “I…I don't understand,” Marmion finally stated. “These are your…servants?”

     “Not all of them,” the Beast answered. “Those two—” He pointed at the wardrobe and the harpsichord. “—were performers. World-famous…at least, that's what I was told.”

     “Performers,” Marmion repeated. “Alright…?”

     He didn't know what to think. He didn't believe that the Beast was crazy, but the idea that these objects before him could talk, when it seemed rather obvious that they couldn't…well, no good-doer from Villeneuve would ever say things like that. Marmion wanted to believe—after all, this was a fairytale come true—but there was just enough of him that still settled in reality for this to seem a little more than…strange.

     He walked through the ballroom like he walked through a dream, nodding as he heard names thrown out: Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, Chapeau, Madame de Garderobe, Maestro Cadenza. And Plumette. The Beast insisted on keeping the candelabra—Lumière—and Plumette together.

     “But…isn't that a little dangerous?” asked Marmion as he set the candelabra down on a ledge next to the feather-duster. “A fire could start.”

     “That won't happen,” the Beast replied. It hasn't happened before.”

     And that was when something else occurred that made Marmion doubt himself, if only for a second. The moment the Beast set the feather-duster next to the candelabra on the ledge, the candles went out of their own accord. It was almost like what had happened when Marmion had picked it up, only in reverse. It made him think for a moment, that maybe…

     “Were they in love?” asked Marmion.

     “Yes,” replied the Beast. The maestro and the madame are married…but Lumière and Plumette never got the chance. Still…don't they deserve to be together, even now?”

     “Even now,” repeated Marmion. Suddenly his mother's predicament shot to the front of his mind. She was already married, but she was separated from the person she truly loved, the Beast. If any two lovers deserved to be together, it was them. Yet it was impossible, with his father blocking the way. His father, who was certainly capable of killing the Beast—he had done it before.

     This unlikely duo, Lumière and Plumette, were separated for…well, reasons unknown, and yet they were still together.

     Wait a minute. Reasons unknown...the image of the floating stem flashed in his head. Marmion looked around at the objects, a curious thought forming.

     “What is it?” asked the Beast.

     “Were they all…human at one point?”

     The Beast closed his eyes and bowed his head, like he couldn't even look at Marmion out of shame. “They were.”

     Oh my god… Marmion's hands came up to cover his mouth, horrified. He couldn't imagine a fate worse. Being turned into an inanimate object, and eventually fading away into nothing…what had happened here to invoke such dark magic?

     He did have his dream come true; he was in the castle that his mother talked so wonderfully about. But he had come too late. Maybe a few years earlier, if he had been brave enough…but it was all gone. Lives had been taken. Lives that could have been filled with love, happiness, new beginnings…

     “I should go,” Marmion whispered, turning his head to the windows, where the light of the moon was just beginning to shine through. “Mother will be worried about me…”

     The Beast didn't reply. In fact, he was silent, and Marmion made it to the door to the castle before he heard him move again. He turned around, and saw him standing by the door to the ballroom, that blank, depressed look back on his face.

     “I was human too,” he muttered. “Once upon a time.”

     Marmion turned fully to look at him, all fear of the Beast completely gone from his heart. “What happened here?” he asked, as seriously as he could muster.

     “The castle was cursed by an enchantress,” he answered. “If someone could fall in love with me and me with them, then the spell would be broken. But I was vain, arrogant; it was impossible. And…I doomed everyone.”

     Marmion blinked and walked closer, all traces of disbelief gone from his heart and mind. “What's your name?”

     “Adam,” the Beast whispered, looking at Marmion with his strange blue eyes. “I'd almost forgotten it.”

     “Adam,” Marmion repeated. “You know she loves you, right? She's always loved you. I hear it in her voice when she talks about you.”

     At that, the Beast blinked and a tear slid out from his eye. He looked stunned, but sad, so very sad. He said nothing, however, and turned around to walk back into the ballroom. “You should get home. She's waiting for you.”

     How long has he been alone in here? How much more pain does he have to endure before he dies?

     “No,” Marmion decided, walking forward. “I need some sleep. The room upstairs will do just fine. Tomorrow we'll do something together. It can be anything you want.”

     The Beast was not expecting that answer. He turned back around, the stunned expression still there, but the sadness gone from it, replaced by something else. Was it hope?

     “Are you sure?” he asked.

     “My name is Marmion, and I'm sure,” Marmion replied, confidence coloring his voice for the first time in what seemed like ages. “Come on, let's go upstairs.”

     Together they climbed the stairs to what Marmion learned was the East Wing. The Beast seemed slightly more enthusiastic upon hearing that Marmion was going to stay, and even helped him change the bedspread to clear the dust away before he left.

     As Marmion settled down in the bed—he had never felt comfort like this before, it was amazing—he wondered if his decision would do anything to help the Beast—no, Adam. It was a decision made in the heat of the moment, and he had never made a choice that big in such a short amount of time. He didn't know how long he was going to stay, or how angry his father would be when he got home, but he was going to stick by this. He might not get another chance.

     “Good night,” he called out, hoping for a moment that the castle might answer back.  It didn't, but at the same time, he didn't feel quite so lonely anymore.  Tomorrow would be better.

Chapter Text

     “Mother's not going to like this,” muttered Corbin.

     “I don't want to be around when Father finds him,” Avenant added as he peered behind a tree trunk. “That little idiot didn't think things through at all; he's going to be in so much trouble...”

     “We could have conducted a proper search if we had torches and horses,” Corbin answered. “Searching in the dark for hours isn't wise, even if we were trained by the best.”

     The two boys looked around for a little while longer, then tried to head back to the village, where Father had already gone home with the two others. There was no use in searching any longer; soon it was going to get very dark, and finding their own way would be impossible.

     “Hey, Corbin?” asked Avenant suddenly.

     Corbin stopped and turned around, his thin face barely visible in the fading light. “What? We have to hurry.”

     “Look over there.” Avenant pointed to a new, smaller path that they had not seen before. Trees covered it from the sky, making it seem darker and more intimidating than the rest of the forest. From within there came the slight sound of the howling wind, which meant that it led to an open space, or quite possibly a cliff. “You don't think he…?”

     Corbin narrowed his eyes and walked over the entrance to the path. After looking over it several times, he walked further in and knelt down, examining a small tree that just barely crept over the path with its roots. “Scuff marks on the roots that are above ground…and one of the smaller branches is broken.” He got to his feet. “I think you're right. Someone ran through here…someone afraid of the woods, most likely.”

     Avenant swore. “What do you think's on the other side of that?”

     Corbin pursed his lips. “I don't know,” he admitted, “but whatever it is, it can't be good.” He turned around and slung his bow over his shoulder. “We need to get back to Villeneuve. Tell Father what we saw. And hope that there might be a chance Marmion's still alive.”

Chapter Text

     Marmion noticed the snow when he woke up.

     He hadn't paid much attention  to his surroundings when running into the castle, so when he looked through the window in his room and saw the blanket of white that had just settled, his heart leapt for joy. Marmion didn't pause to think about anything else as he raced over to the West Wing, trying to find the Beast. To him, the sudden snow-fall wasn't attributed to a curse in any way. To him, it was just an incredible wonder. Winter was his favorite season, after all; during the winter everything was covered in a clean white blanket, free of any imprints of struggle. And, since many animals were hibernating, there was no hunting to be done.

     A long time ago, his mother had taught Burkett how to make little men out of snow, and in turn, Burkett had taught Marmion. Marmion made his entire family out of snow once: him, his mother, his father, and his brothers. After showing it to his father, however, he learned a “better” way of having fun with snow: fighting with it. It wasn't entirely bad—strangely enough, Marmion loved the idea of making snowballs. He left the throwing part to his older brothers, since his strength was no match for theirs and his aim was somewhat off. But when they were having a snowball fight, it almost seemed like all of the tension in the household melted away. For a few short hours, everything was perfect.

     Maybe he could recreate that level of fun with the Beast.

     He found him in the West Wing, still curled up on the floor. The wing was quite possibly the dreariest part of the castle, and Marmion made a mental note to let some light in, once he'd woken the Beast. With his fear completely abandoned, he walked straight up to the Beast's sleeping form and shook him a little. When there was no response, Marmion went over to the curtains and threw them open, again nearly choking on all of the dust that the very motion kicked up. When was the last time this place was cleaned? thought Marmion as he swatted at the air. But it did the trick: a ray of sunlight pierced the gloom of the West Wing and fell right on the face of the Beast, who grunted and squinted through the sudden burst of light.

     “It's snowing,” Marmion exclaimed. “Can we go outside and play?”

     “You want to do what?” the Beast asked groggily, a snarl giving a bit of an edge to the question. Maybe he's not a morning person, thought Marmion. It's like that all the time here,” he continued. “It would be boring.”

     “Have you never had a snowball fight before, or built snowmen?” asked Marmion. “Come on, you must have! Maybe before…?” Marmion left that sentence unfinished, knowing that it was probably a sensitive subject.

     The Beast's brow furrowed in thought. As Marmion watched, he saw that the Beast's expression mimicked one that he caught himself using sometimes—like he had remembered something so important but didn't want anyone else to know that it was important. And he smiled, figuring that it must have had something to do with his mother.

     “Come on,” he said again. “Let's go outside. Do you have any cloaks that might fit me? I didn't bring one myself.” I'm talking like I've come for a visit, Marmion thought. Have I really become that comfortable around someone like him this quickly? Perhaps there was still a part of him that hadn't fully accepted that he was conversing with a fairytale made real.

     The Beast sighed, but it looked like Marmion had won. “Perhaps there's one in storage,” he answered. “Give me a minute…I'll try and find something that could fit you.”

     “All right, I'll wait,” Marmion replied, but the young boy's expression showed everything except patience. Snow. In June. Oh, if only his grandfather and mother were here; it would make everything better!

     As the Beast left the room, Marmion approached the windows in the West Wing, which were splintered and falling apart in some places. The floating stem still sat in its glass cage on the pedestal, and while Marmion had made a mental note to ask the Beast about it, he sensed that it was a delicate subject, one that definitely had to do with the curse on this castle. Was it alive, like the other residents of the castle had been?

     “What are you?” he whispered, his hand hovering over the glass. He wanted to touch it, but he was too scared to get close. There was something about it, something that increased the rate of his heartbeat whenever he thought about it. “What part do you play in all this?”

     It could have been a draft from the winter air outside, but Marmion knew that the casing protected the plant from any kind of weather from the outside. But only seconds after the words left Marmion's mouth, the dried rose petals flew up from their resting place on the pedestal in a small, slow whirlwind, and the urge to touch the glass became stronger than ever. It took a good amount of self-control for Marmion to wrench his hand away, but when he did, the petals all hung motionlessly in midair, no longer dried up but healthy, a bright, rich red. They did not float slowly to the cold stone, as Marmion expected them to. He shook his head in wonder. What was going on here?

     In fact, he had noticed things like this happening whenever he interacted with the castle at all; when he struck a key on the old harpsichord in the ballroom, it had responded with an incredibly loud and clear note—an instrument that damaged and dusty shouldn't be able to carry even a small tune. When he touched that old mantel clock to check the time, its hands had shuddered a little before carrying on their regular movements. Whenever he held that strange candelabra—Lumière, the Beast had said—it caught fire of its own accord, providing him with the light he needed to explore the castle. And now this plant, this rose, was responding to his presence. What did he have to do with any of this? He was just the son of the woman the Beast could have been happy with, and the son of the man that had tried to kill him. He didn't know the details of this curse, and he highly doubted—especially since he had his father's blood—that he was going to affect it in any positive way.

     But the sound of the Beast's footsteps drew his mind away from the subject; he would ask about the rose when he had the chance. Instead of waiting for the Beast to come in, Marmion ran across the room to the door, letting excitement push his apprehension to a small corner of his mind.

     “You found something,” he exclaimed when he saw the small, deep blue bundle nestled in the Beast's enormous paw. He ran his hand across the fabric and found that it was made of wool; though its itchy texture made him hesitant, it felt warm against his hand, which was chilled by the air of the West Wing. He didn't know how the Beast managed to sleep up here, with its splintered windows letting in all the chill from outside. Slowly, he lifted the cape from the Beast's grasp. The material was thick and heavy, but it was embroidered along the edges with gleaming gold thread, and it even had a hood. It looked a little big for him, but he figured he could manage.

     “Did children come by here often?” asked Marmion. “This looks like it could fit me.”

     “I've lived in this castle all my life,” the Beast replied. “That was mine. If children did come, they were expected to bring their own.”

     Marmion blinked as he tried to imagine the Beast as a child his age, with auburn curls instead of fur, running around in the snow. He couldn't entirely do it; the idea was just too out-of-place. But he could imagine a shadow with a child's laugh, dancing in that white blanket Marmion adored. He blinked, shook his head. He was already living out a dream; it might hurt him to go deeper.

     “It's really pretty,” he said, swinging it over his shoulders and smiling when it fell to just barely above his ankles. It was big, but he would still be able to run around. It also seemed very enduring despite the design; it could withstand a few snowballs, but Marmion had to be quick. When it came to him in a form like this, Marmion did love a physical challenge.

     “All right, I think I'm ready,” he said confidently, and reached up to pull the hood over his head. However, the hood proved to be too thick and big to rest atop Marmion's smooth hair; it slipped forward and covered his face, barely touching his collarbone and plunging his vision into sudden darkness. Marmion gave a sharp “oh!” of surprise and tried to pull it away, but before he could, he heard a curious sound from the Beast, like he was tripping over his own breath. It wasn't until Marmion listened a little more carefully did he realize that the Beast was trying not to laugh.

     Marmion smiled. “Oh, very funny,” he stated, and started to walk away, but his foot caught on something he could not see and he fell flat on his rear. At this, the whispered giggles turned into a roar of laughter that the Beast couldn't seem to reign in. Marmion opened his mouth to protest, but then he was laughing too, and the two just stood there, at the entrance to the West Wing, ignoring the unfortunate for the first time in ages.


     But only half an hour away, one woman was not so fortunate.

     “He's been missing for a day,” Belle whispered, her head in her hands, tears of worry streaming down her face. She had tried to stay strong, certain that Gaston and the other boys would be able to find him. She did have faith in them; they were the best trackers in the village, and Gaston had taught the boys well. But it had been a day since Marmion had run off. Twenty-four hours full of horrific possibilities. Marmion did not know the woods well, and she knew well enough that they were teeming with hostile wolves. And even if Marmion managed to escape the wolves, there was still the ravine, and other animals of prey who might attack him. The thought of finding Marmion's body, ravaged, somewhere out there…

     No, she thought to herself. Remain strong. He needs you to be strong.

     She hated sitting around; she wanted to be out there looking for him. She knew the woods better than Marmion, and she knew Marmion better than his brothers and Gaston. If they just let her take Phillipe, she could be of some help to the search, she knew she would!

     But Gaston wouldn't have it. He was in the house now, in his study, probably thinking of a strategy to find Marmion. He might be strong, but Belle knew him far too well for her own liking. His main objective for finding Marmion was so Belle could feel indebted to him; that's why she wasn't allowed to go looking out there herself.

     “Can you make me some eggs, Maman?”

     Belle stared through her blurry vision at Burkett, who was sitting at the table across from her. His brown eyes, her brown eyes, looked hopefully back at her, waiting.

     “What do you say?” Belle responded gently.

     Burkett was silent for more than a few seconds, his brow furrowed in thought, before he finally mumbled “Please?”

     Belle nodded then, and went to the stove. Maybe this would give her something else to do while—

     “Father!” Corbin's voice.

     Belle rushed to the door and flung it wide open. In rushed Corbin, his eyes wide, his lips parted and breathing heavily, the twins at his heels. He must have run all the way back, which meant that they had found something.

     “Boys!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”

     They all started chattering at once; Belle found it hard to follow what they were saying, but they all had wild looks in their eyes, like they had seen something both terrifying and incredible. Gaston emerged from his study at the sound of their return, his eyes gleaming when he saw the state they were in.

     “Calm down,” Gaston ordered. “What is it? What did you find?”

     “We found a castle!” Archard exclaimed, his expression alight with excitement. “A huge castle with towers and turrets and everything, and it was snowing!”

     The entire room fell silent. Gaston's face had gone blank; he merely stared at his sons as if he was unable to accept what he had heard. Burkett's eyebrows had shot straight up, his expression changing into one of jealousy; how come he hadn't gotten to see it?

     And the floor had come out from under Belle's feet; she couldn't speak; she couldn't breathe. It was still standing. It hadn't fallen apart over the years like Gaston had told her. He had lied. She thought of the other residents of the castle, forever changed, worse than dead. Every moment, every second of her time there came rushing back to her in clear, vivid detail.

     “It looks more like a ruin,” Corbin said, breaking the silence. “Bricks are falling out of place. The rooftops were caving in. Who knows how long it's been out there.” And after glancing at Belle with something that might have been concern, he added “That's the only place Marmion could have gone. We tracked him there.”

     Belle nodded, not quite hearing him, and sat down at the table.

     “Well, then that's where I'll look for him,” Gaston announced boldly.  Ever the war hero, thought Belle, always eager to show off his skills.  Boorish, brainless—

     “We want to go too,” said Corbin.

     Gaston laughed, his arrogant grin already back on his face. “Nonsense! Do you think I'd need help with something this easy?”

     “It's not like that,” Corbin replied. “I don't doubt your abilities as a tracker, or a hunter. You're the best in the village for both. The reason we want to come along is because we're a little curious to see what might be inside. It's a castle, after all. There could be hidden treasure.” The boys all nodded, agreeing. “And I want to go because he's my brother,” Corbin added. “I want to see that he's alright.”

     Belle looked up, surprised. Corbin had managed to weave some flattery through his speech, so it was toned down a little, but that was the first time she had seen one of her sons stand up to Gaston. Or the first time—in years—that Belle had heard Corbin show any kind of brotherly affection towards Marmion.

     And for a moment, Gaston looked like he was going to refuse Corbin. But then—this day was full of surprises—he nodded. “We leave in two hours,” Gaston said. "Gather what you need.”


     Corbin saw his father pack a few small knives and a sword (probably for hacking through the undergrowth), but he knew they were going to need more than that. When he and the twins had happened upon the castle, they had split up to look around. None of them dared venture inside, but they were content with exploring the gardens and the walls around the structure. And as he had traveled along one of the walls, he had heard voices, along with the sound of snow hitting against something. Feet crunching against the frozen grass. He dared not get a closer look, afraid he would be spotted, but he had heard enough. And that was the reason why, when his brothers went to put on their winter clothes, he told them to bring their weapons, too.

     That castle wasn't a ruin; Corbin had only said that to calm his mother. Someone lived there, someone who had possibly found Marmion. This wasn't just a search anymore; it was a rescue. And Corbin was going to make sure that he was fully prepared to do his part.

Chapter Text

     The Beast leaned over Marmion's shoulder to watch him work. The little boy either didn't mind or didn't notice; he was too lost in a world of paper and ink.

     The two had enjoyed themselves a little too much outside. They made snowballs, had fights, even played hide-and-seek (with the size of the castle's backyard, they never ran out of space). And the snowmen! After Marmion had taught him how, they had made the biggest snowman imaginable, with branches for arms and a cape from inside to use as a scarf. If they looked out the window they would still be able to see it smiling back at them with a mouth made of smooth, black stones.

     But soon the sun began to slip into the mountains, the cold even started to get to the Beast, and they trekked back in with snow soaking their clothes and chilling them to the bone. Now they sat by the fire in the library, drying off. Marmion was completely dry, and his hands had stopped shaking to the point that he felt they were steady enough to write a little. So he had busied himself with finding a few pens and some ink in the library and was practicing his calligraphy. The Beast had more or less dried off, but he kept a slight distance from the boy—he didn't want to get him wet.

     And honestly, he didn't know how Marmion did it. The boy wasn't drawing or painting, but he had the brush strokes down to a tee and the colors themselves responded with every flick of his hand. Where one stroke began dark and full of weight, it ended light and feathery. Each letter was a slow work, but Marmion had a careful, practiced hand; he shaped the letters with the utmost skill and precision. The Beast didn't know a single, meaningless word could have so much beauty to it, but Marmion made it so. He had more talent than the artist his father had hired, all those years ago. Just how old was the boy?

     And the expression on his face while he wrote…peaceful, yet filled with such fervor and excitement as he saw his own work come to life. He was caught up in whatever his imagination was telling him to create. The Beast had seen that look before; in this room, by the windowsill, a turn of a page, a small laugh, sunlight reflecting off of her hair, making it shine like gold…

     “Do you like it?” asked Marmion, looking up. The Beast blinked, and looked down to see that Marmion had finished writing. The line read, in bold, daring strokes: “Did ever a dragon keep so fair a cave?”

     The Beast stared, for a moment unsure as to what to say. He recognized the sentence from somewhere, but the memory was grey and fuzzy, and with it came a slight feeling of boredom. So he admired the penmanship instead, making sure not to touch the paper for fear he'd tear it to shreds. “It's beautiful,” he said sincerely. “Where did you learn to write like that?”

     “I kinda taught myself,” Marmion admitted sheepishly. “In the chapel in my village, there was a lot of Scripture that was written like this, and once I learned to read, I tried to copy it as best I could. After that I just sort of…tried it on my own.”

     Self-taught? The Beast shook his head. “You're lying,” he stated, only half-serious.

     “No, honestly!” Marmion replied, his blue eyes wide. “I spend a lot of time indoors, so I have a lot of time to myself. I have to fill it with something.”

     “Alright, I believe you,” the Beast relented; he didn't want to argue. “Write something else,” he suggested instead.

     A small smile spread across the young artist's face at the request. “Okay,” he replied. “This needs to dry anyway.” And just like that, he had set out a new sheet of paper and dipped the pen into blue ink. Before drawing a few curly lines around the corner of the page, Marmion let himself go into the pattern of shaping the letters again. It was entrancing, watching him work at it. But this time, Marmion was creating a word, a special word, one that the Beast recognized as it took its shape. It was his name, Adam.

     He was never good at handwriting even when he was human; now his claws all but ripped the quills to shreds every time he tried. And who was he going to write to, anyway? The world had forgotten him.

     But that one word, written perfectly against clean white, like the snow outside…it spoke volumes. A testament to his existence, a reminder that nothing important could truly slip away. And this boy, this child…he had only known him for a day and a half, yet he had taught him what it was like to feel human again. His excitement was something that he had only begun to see this morning; being here was giving him some kind of renewed vigor. He could not compare the taut bundle of nerves that had come here to the person grinning up at him now.

     Maybe he was doing some good after all.

     “Can I ask you a question?” asked Marmion.

     “Of course.” 

     “What's…um…” Marmion hesitated, but then he took a deep breath. “When I was in the West Wing, I saw a rose—well, it was dead, and now…well, I don't know, really. Does it have any sort of significance to the, um…the curse this castle is under?”

     There were several answers that rose to the Beast's mind at those words, from “well, it's a long story” to “that's none of your business”. But he decided to tell the truth. Marmion deserved to know what he hadn't already figured out. “The curse had a sort of deadline to it. If I could learn to love another and earn their love in return before the last petal on the rose fell, then the spell would be broken.”

     Marmion's eyebrows knit together. “Then…why isn't the spell broken? You still love her, don't you?”

     “Yes, but…” How vivid was his world when he thought about Belle. So smart, so determined, so fearless…everything about her set his heart at ease. Yes, he still loved her, of course he did. But that was a curse in and of itself; especially in regards to the child watching him, with blue eyes that were not his, but someone else's. “…we were too late.”

     “Too late?” Marmion echoed, his voice holding something like disbelief. “That can't be right, because a few hours ago, it was—!”

     But whatever he was about to say was cut off by a small crash, like one of them had knocked something over. It didn't come from the library, though…more like a few levels below them.

     The two met each other's gazes, instantly on alert. Marmion put the quill back in the ink-holder and stood up. “Did you hear that?” he whispered.

     There really was no need to whisper; whatever had made the noise was below them. But all the same, the Beast whispered too. “Maybe we should take a look.”

     Marmion nodded, and the two crept down the first flight of stairs, waiting to see if anything else started making noise. The Beast almost wanted to say that it was some debris; the castle had been falling apart over the years anyway. But that sound was hollow. Something had definitely been knocked over.

     That was when he started to hear the voices. They were also hushed, like the castle carried some sort of reverence with it, but they were obviously the voices of other children. Teenagers, most likely here to steal some of the riches that were still left.

     Perhaps they stumbled across the castle by accident, the Beast thought. If I let them go about their business, they should be out of here in half an hour at most.

     But then he heard a clearer, prouder voice, one that cut through the silence, and one that brought with it terrible images, visions of stormy nights and flashing silver. “You boys take that hallway. I'll see if he's up here.”

     It was him. It was the man that had tried to kill him, all those years ago.

What's the matter, Beast? Too kind and gentle to fight back?”

     Oh no. What was he doing here? What more did he want? He had already killed him; did he want to bask in his victory with his friends?

Did you honestly think she'd want you, when she had someone like me?!”

     This had to stop right now. He had to do something, but if he chose to show himself, he could be walking into a trap. Did he know that he was still alive? Was he back to finish the job?

Come on out and fight!”

     “Father,” Marmion whispered. Marmion whispered.

     “…What?”

     The entire world shuddered to a halt as the Beast turned to look at the boy, a new kind of horror creeping into him. Marmion was the son of—Belle had gotten married toand had—

     No. No. It couldn't be…

     And now Marmion was looking at him with a concerned look in his eyes—his eyes, the eyes that had watched him as he bled out—no. No…

It's over, Beast! Belle is MINE!”

     He needed to get away. From the hunter, from Marmion, from everything. This was the worst kind of betrayal, the final act of cruelty given to him. After one last horrified look at Marmion, he fled upstairs, seeking solace in the West Wing.


     Marmion regretted the word the moment it came out of his mouth. He had tried to hide the fact, but it had slipped out on instinct.

     A voice in his head told him that there was nothing wrong with it—it was a true fact. But after seeing the look on the Beast's face—a look of absolute horror—he knew it was wrong. Very, very wrong. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to insist that he and his father—Gaston—that they were nothing alike, that he took after his mother, he always had, but the Beast had already turned tail and ran.

     Betrayal. That was the word that stuck to the inside of Marmion's head. Cold, hard, brutal. The son of the man that tried to kill the Beast. Marmion's eyes grew wide. What had he just done?

     “No,” he tried to call after him. “I didn't mean—I'm not like—please! Please come back!”

     But it was no use. The only answer was the echo of the Beast's feet as he ran upward, and Marmion ran after him, calling for him to come back, that he didn't mean it (but how could he not mean it? It was true). He had just met the Beast, and they had already shared so much with each other…would it really all fall apart just because of one word?

     Finally, legs nearly shaking with exhaustion, he made it to the door to the West Wing. But before he could pull open the door—which had been slammed shut—he could hear the thundering sound of his father's boots on the stairs.

     “Marmion?” he called. “Is that you up there?”

     He didn't sound angry, Marmion noticed. He actually sounded a little…uneasy. Perhaps the silence of the castle was getting to him? Marmion turned around just in time to see his father finish climbing the stairs. He didn't look the slightest bit winded—of course not, why would he—and held nothing in his hands. A sword rested at his belt, and Marmion could see the bulge of his hunting knife hidden in his boot, but other than that, his father was unarmed. Marmion almost breathed a sigh of relief—he hadn't come to kill anything, just to find his son. His mother had probably put him up to it, but still, there wasn't any fighting on the agenda right now. Maybe Marmion could talk him into leaving the Beast alone.

     “Father, I—” Marmion began.

     “Were you talking to someone?” his father asked, looking past his son and at the doors to the West Wing. “I heard you yelling.”

     “I wasn't talking to anyone,” Marmion replied. “I started yelling because I heard something crash downstairs. I'm sorry for running off, really, I am. I was just…scared.”

     But his father was either not listening or didn't care; he strode straight up to the door and laid a hand on its handle. Marmion's heart skipped a beat. Maybe violence was on the agenda after all…

     “Okay, fine, I was talking to…one of the characters from a book I found here,” he invented wildly. “It was so good that I could imagine them talking to me; and the library is huge, so…anyway, uhm, thanks for finding me. Let's just head back home—I'm sure Mother will want to hear everything—!”

     But his father ignored him and swung open the doors. They banged against the walls, and Marmion hid his face in his hands. He didn't want to see what happened next.

     His father didn't move. He stood in silence, staring at whatever was on the other side of those doors, before saying, in a very, very soft voice, “I see you, Beast.”

     “No...” mumbled Marmion, but before he could do anything, his father had strode inside, drawing his hunting knife from his belt. It gleamed wickedly in the moonlight, and Marmion saw the Beast, backed into a corner by the rose. His face was a mess of emotions: hurt, shock, betrayal, despair. He wanted to say something, but anything he said would look bad now. Would hurt even more for the both of them.

     I'm sorry. I tried to stop him—I can't stop him…I'm so, so sorry…

     "You've done wonderfully, son," his father crowed, clapping him on the shoulder with a force that made Marmion stumble; he dropped to his knees. He barely felt it; the pain in his heart was much, much greater. His only friend in the world, and he had failed him. "Now, let me take it from here. You know," his father added, his expression more like a snarl than a smile, "I think this is the first time one of my prey has come back for a rematch! But believe me...it will be the last."

Chapter Text

     Belle believed that they would bring Marmion back. If she didn't have faith in Gaston, she had faith in Corbin, whose reasoning was quite noble considering his treatment of Marmion in the past. Or rather, his ignorance of Marmion in the past.

     There were moments, back when Corbin was five years old, when Belle thought that she could educate him, help him to see past all of the thoughts of war, hunting, and glory that Gaston was putting in his head. When Corbin learned to read, he excelled. But it wasn't enough to stop the call of the great outdoors. Belle knew that he shared her craving for freedom and adventure, but he used that to follow after his father instead of escaping through books like Belle did.

     But even so.

     "I want to go because he's my brother. I want to see that he's alright.”

     She had faith in him.

     The problem was, what state would Marmion be in when they arrived? There were the usual worries, like whether or not Marmion had taken advantage of the resources the castle had to offer. Was there still food there? What about the fireplaces? The bedrooms? The library…?

     Belle closed her eyes and placed her head in her hands. That familiar feeling washed over her, that feeling of awe, wonder, love…still—even after fifteen years—still strong as ever. She wondered, would she have wanted to be by Marmion's side as he traveled through the castle? Or would the pain be too much to bear?

     How was he feeling? He was a smart child; surely he had made the connection between the castle and her stories. But she imagined that if he ever did happen upon the staff, he wouldn't think much of them.

     She gasped and put a hand over her mouth, even though she didn't say anything. She knew that it was true, though. When she had first entered the West Wing, the rose was barely clinging to life; there were only ten or so petals left. Throughout her five days there, she had witnessed the petals fall nearly twice each day. There was no way the curse would have waited for her, not this long.

     But even so… She couldn't imagine the castle without its moving furniture. Cogsworth would always inform her when the meals were prepared, Mrs. Potts was always there whether or not she needed a kind word, with Chip hopping merrily along at her side, and Lumière…it was extremely difficult to imagine that candelabra without his panache and bravado. To imagine them all as antiques, lightly used houseware, rubbish…she couldn't. It was like killing them.

     Even though they were already dead.

     She shook her head, stood up, and began to walk around. Sitting in the kitchen wasn't doing her much good anyway. She was alone in the house now, with no one to stop her from doing anything. What could she do? Visit her old house? The bookshop? Her father at the asylum?

     But instead of walking anywhere near those places, she found herself inside Gaston's study. She disliked this room almost as much as she disliked its owner. There were so many heads mounted on the walls and antlers intertwining with each other…there was even a pair resting on top of his fur-covered chair.

     Belle wrinkled her nose in disgust. He fancied himself a king, did he? His vanity was enough to make her shudder, but that wasn't the only thing she had to deal with as his wife…wait.

     What was that?

     Belle neared the chair, making sure she saw correctly. As she got closer, she knew that what she saw was not a trick of the mind—there was a green glow emanating from the pelts on the chair.

     She only hesitated for a moment before plunging her hands into the fur, trying to find the source of this odd glowing. And only after a few seconds, her hand wrapped around a metal handle. She pulled the object from the folds and brushed a few loose hairs from its surface to get a proper look at it.

     “Take it with you. So you'll always have a way to look back…and remember me.”

     She gasped as the gilded metal fell from her fingers and clanged on the wooden floor. It was the enchanted mirror, the one that the Beast had given her. After Gaston had taken it from her, she had always thought he had disposed of it somewhere…she never imagined that he'd actually keep it. But now…she knelt down and held it in her hands. Now she could see for herself if Marmion was alright.

     “I'd like to see Marmion,” she whispered. “My youngest child.”

     The surface of the mirror flared green, and for a moment, Belle was blinded by its light. But then the light faded, and Belle gazed into its depths.

     She sighed in relief; he was alright after all. She saw him sitting at a table with a feather pen and a sheet of paper. She recognized his location immediately; he was in the library. He smiled as he worked; there was an intense look in his eyes that she saw when he was working hard on something he cared about. He looked up once or twice, then picked up the paper and showed it to something behind him. Or someone.

     “Who's that?” asked Belle aloud. “The person behind him.” The image clouded over for a moment, but then the fog cleared to reveal not the face of a person, but that of a creature with fur, horns, fangs, and bright, entranced blue eyes.

     Belle's heart stopped. She would have dropped the mirror again, had her grip to the handle not become so tight. The creature moved around, smiling, asking something that she could not hear. She could not speak, herself.

     It was like every sense she had decided to stop working and start at the same time, only much, much faster. Lightning struck, grounding her to the earth. She was already on her knees, but if she had been standing she would have fallen.

     He was alive. Her Beast, the love of her life, he was alive. For fifteen years he had been alive. For fifteen years she had lived without him. Married the worst man in the village because he dangled her father's life over her head, like she was but one of his dogs.

     He was alive. Marmion had met him. They were talking. Laughing even. But then, their heads both snapped up, and they looked at each other in worry. After sharing a few words, they both got up to leave. And then the vision faded until she was looking at her own reflection again. And until she looked at herself there, she had not noticed her smile. Or her tears. But her happy expression quickly gave way to one of horror. Gaston and the others were en route to the castle; they were probably there now. Gaston would see the Beast again. Probably seek to kill him once and for all…oh god.

     What was she doing here?

     She had to get there. She had to get out of this house and…she had to get to the Beast. To let him know that she still loved him after all this time, curse or not.  Before it was well and truly far too late.

     She ran outside, only to find that Gaston had not only taken his horse, but Phillipe and the other one as well. She shouldn't be surprised; the boys were going too, and they all couldn't fit on one horse, but now she had no way to get to the castle. She looked around frantically, trying to find any other means of transport. She couldn't very well find her way on foot, but if that was her only option…

     “What's wrong?”

     Belle whipped around, her panic nearly taking the better of her, but sighed in relief when she saw that it was only Agathe, the old beggar woman she sometimes bought bread and jam for. Gaston saw her as nothing but a filthy hag, but Belle considered her to be an acquaintance, if not a friend.

     “Oh Agathe, Gaston is headed to the castle; I have to go after him, but he took all of the horses. The Beast…” Belle only hesitated for a second before continuing. She and Agathe were both looked down upon in this wretched village; if anyone would understand, it would be her. “The Beast is alive. Gaston said he killed him but he didn't, he's alive and I have to find him.”

     Agathe didn't react in any way to her breathless speech, but instead looked up at her with a very serious expression. “Do you truly care that much about this Beast of yours?”

     “Yes,” Belle said, any hesitancy gone from her voice this time. “I spent years thinking he was dead; and now that he's alive, I…I need to see him. I love him.”

     And that was when a ghost of a smile betrayed Agathe's otherwise stoic face. She simply nodded and held out her hand. “This way.”

     Belle followed Agathe—who was quite agile for her age—through the buildings of Villeneuve before she finally came to rest near the outskirts of the village, where a young Percheron was tied to a post.

     “Take her,” Agathe said. “And make haste.”

     Belle nearly wept at this show of kindness; she wrapped her arms around the beggar in a quick embrace before mounting the horse. “Thank you,” she said.

     Agathe simply untied the horse from the post and looked up at Belle as she handed her the rope. “Good luck.”

     Belle nodded and drove the horse forward. She went straight into a gallop towards the woods. Fifteen years. Fifteen years that Belle had to make up. Fifteen years that were going to start today, as soon as the castle appeared before her, as soon as she saw the Beast again. She flew towards him, promising to tell him the moment she saw him the one thing that she had failed to say.

     “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you so much.”


     Agathe finally let herself smile as Belle turned her back on the village. She whispered something into her palm, and blew a handful of rose petals into the air. They immediately caught on the wind and floated in Belle's wake, following her to the castle. Just a little magic, to aid her when she made it there.

     “Take what I offer, bring back the light,” she whispered.  "For blood will be shed this very night."  She then pulled her hood over her head and hobbled back into the streets—just an old woman, begging for coin.

Chapter Text

     The Beast's first cry of pain hurt more than anything Marmion had felt before.

     Only a few minutes had passed, but it seemed like hours, every howl from the Beast digging deeper and deeper into Marmion's being. His father wasn't even using his knife yet, not to its full extent.  Just a few cuts here and there, mostly punches. But still, whatever he was doing was hurting the Beast. And it was all Marmion's fault.

     He had come to the castle in the first place. He had led his father here. His father was hurting the Beast because of him. The Beast was going to die and he was to blame. He couldn't do anything to stop it.

     “I was human too, once upon a time.”

     Marmion blinked as the memories of the previous night came rushing back to him.  Why was he thinking of yesterday at a time like this?

     “What's your name?”

     “Adam. I'd almost forgotten it.”

     “Tomorrow we'll do something together. It can be anything you want.”

     They had had so much fun after that…it had felt amazing. He felt the same way when it was just him and his mother in the house, telling each other the stories they had read, stories that they made up to pass the time.

     It was like… Marmion's eyes widened as he found the right word. It was like being in a family.

     Marmion's father had always scoffed at the idea of calligraphy, of reading, of anything Marmion loved to do. That's not what a father was supposed to do…a father was supposed to encourage talents and be supportive of them. A father wasn't supposed to force certain activities and behaviors onto his child, especially if they didn't want them. A father wasn't supposed to strike his son out of anger.

     It hadn't even been two days since Marmion came to the castle, and the Beast had been more of a father to Marmion than Gaston ever was.

     Marmion felt something inside him swell. For the first time since Gaston had arrived, Marmion pulled his head up to look at the Beast. He couldn't just stand by anymore. He had to do something.

     They had broken apart; Gaston's knife was dangling in his hand, an anticipating expression dancing on his face, his eyes the eyes of a predator stalking its next meal. The blade was red at the tip, and the Beast was on the floor, half-curled up in a meager attempt at self defense.

     “No,” Marmion said, surprised at how steady his voice sounded. “Don't.”

Gaston didn't seem to hear; he approached the Beast, his knife slicing through the air with a sound like a leather whip. Closer. Closer. The Beast closed his eyes and bowed his head, accepting his fate.

     “Please,” Marmion cried, a little louder this time as he jumped to his feet. “Stop!”

     Again, Gaston ignored him, and laughed as he raised his knife to deliver the final blow.

     “Stop it!” yelled Marmion, and suddenly he was running, throwing himself between the Beast and Gaston; a flash of courage and reckless emotion. “Please don't hurt him!”

     Gaston faltered for a split second, his knife still held high above his head. Then a terrible smile slowly spread across his face. His eyes gleamed in the moonlight, holding a sort of savage pride. He looked down at Marmion, who shuddered at the sight of his father like this.

     “Now this, this is what I've wanted for you, son,” Gaston said. His voice was grating, like the sound of pointed stones on squeaking metal. “I almost don't recognize you; you've grown up. Become a man. Maybe sharing a building with a creature like him really taught you a few things.” He lowered the knife and held out a hand, smiling proudly at the boy he thought was his. “Move aside, Marmion. Come back to the village. It's your home, after all, not this old ruin.”

     The truth was, sharing the castle with the Beast really had taught Marmion a few things, but none of them were things that Gaston would be proud of—Marmion knew that now. And now that he was showing some signs of bravery and courage, Gaston was acting like he was truly proud of him for once. And if this had taken place a few days ago, Marmion would have gone with him. He would have been too afraid to resist him.

     Now it was different. Now the mere sight of his father—and the knowledge of what he'd done—made Marmion's blood boil.

     “I'll never go anywhere with you!” yelled Marmion. “You're a vile, evil monster and you don't deserve my mother!” And with that, he ran into Gaston, tackling him with all his might.

     This already didn't look like it was going to end well. Gaston was a huge man, muscular, made for fights. Marmion was small, weak, and could barely lift a sack of flour. The odds already belonged to Gaston. But something inside Marmion had awoken, something huge and terrifying, and something that gave him the strength to dive at the man that he no longer knew, the man that had ruined so many lives just to push his forward.

     Also, Gaston's stance wasn't relatively good, and he wasn't expecting his little shrimp of a son to leap at him.

     They both fell to the floor, hard, and Marmion raised a fist to punch him, but with an animalistic snarl, Gaston reared up again. Marmion's burst of courage immediately melted away—he was still holding the knife.

     And then the entire air shattered around them as the most terrifying sound Marmion had ever heard rang through the West Wing: it was the roar of a creature of prey. Both he and Gaston stopped in their assaults and turned around to stare in shock at the Beast, who had risen from his collapsed state on the floor and now stood on all fours, teeth and claws gleaming like jagged silver.

     Thinking fast, Marmion dove out of the way just as Gaston tried to get up, but the Beast took Gaston's shirt collar in one hand and drove him back onto the floor. With the other paw he knocked the knife out of Gaston's hand and glanced towards Marmion, who, despite knowing that the Beast meant for no harm to come to him, shuddered at the sight of him like this.

     “GO!” the Beast yelled. It was a little garbled, but Marmion got the message. He ran through the otherwise quiet halls of the castle—grabbing the candelabra; it once again lit up at his touch along the way, providing him with the light needed—before stumbling into a guest room not far from the West Wing. He slowly sank to the floor, hugging himself, rocking back and forth, and trying to calm down.

     What was I thinking? Marmion thought. I tried to...I almost got killed...and Father tried to kill me…

     That last thought lingered in his head a little longer than the others did. Gaston had come at him with a knife. It was only for a split second, but the motion had been there.

     His own father didn't even love him. He never did.

     Marmion knew that his father was a horrible person, but the emotion alone was enough to break the poor child's heart.

     Marmion buried his head in his knees and hands. Now would have been a perfect time to cry, but he didn't even remember how. His fairytales were falling apart in his head, and the Beast was probably out there fighting Gaston, and he could do nothing about it. That was all he could do, wasn't it? Be the stupid, useless brother who did nothing but watch and feel helpless? He couldn't even control his erratic heart beat or his breathing patterns.

     “I really am nothing but a coward,” he whispered, and hugged his legs closer to him.

     And suddenly, a change came over the room. Marmion felt a surge of something small, but something strong and wonderful. Even though nothing changed physically about the room itself, it suddenly looked so much brighter. Marmion was filled with an incredible sense of calm. He slowly looked up, wondering if there was some unseen magic at work.

     “You have been very brave thus far, my friend.”

     Marmion gasped as a new voice, one he had not heard before, suddenly filled the room that he was sitting in. He looked around for the source, and found that it was coming from the candelabra that he had just set down seconds before.

     Marmion blinked slowly, his mouth hanging open. All of his mother's stories came flooding back to him. The calm had suddenly been overridden by pure, unbounded excitement, the kind that only young children could experience. Hardly believing his eyes, he crawled forward.

     “Lumiére?” he whispered, his heart in his throat.

     The delicately carved metal face in the center smiled. “That's right.”

     For a moment Marmion thought his breath would stick in his throat, but he managed to gasp out a shaky “How…?”

     Lumiére's smile grew broader as he turned towards the window. “I believe a certain mademoiselle has finally made her way back to the castle, after all these years…”

     Marmion had to stand on tiptoe to look out the window, but at the edge of the forest, through the snow and the rain, he could see a small speck fly from the dark line of trees. “Mother,” he whispered. “What if she doesn't make it in time?”

     “Then we must aid the master in every way that we can,” replied Lumiére. “I think my fellow servants have slept long enough, oui?”

     Marmion immediately understood, and nodded as he started towards the door to fetch the other objects throughout the castle, sure that they were probably coming to life just as Lumiére had.

     “Ah—mon ami, if you don't mind—?”

     “Oh—right—!” Marmion turned around to pick up the candelabra and ran through the now gleaming halls, hope and courage once again surging through his blood.

Chapter Text

     “This place is huge.”

     “Can we really take whatever we want?”

     “Well, it's abandoned, right? So it's not stealing. That makes it alright.”

     “Don't think about that now,” Corbin ordered, bow in hand as he led his brothers through the dark and abandoned halls. “We have to find Marmion first. Then we can deal with treasure.”

     They all stopped talking. When Father wasn't around, Corbin was in charge. That was how they'd been raised, after all. They weren't going to break the habit now.

     “I've never seen a castle like this,” Archard stated.

     “You've never seen a castle,” Avenant corrected.

     “But still…this isn't how they're supposed to look, right?” Archard continued. “They weren't like this in the books that Mother used to read to us.”

     Corbin raised his eyebrows. “You remember that?” he asked. “She only did that when you were little, before…” Corbin trailed off. The rest was unspoken, but clear: before Father declared stories unimportant.

     There were times when Corbin wished Father hadn't done that. True, they were trained to be the best hunters in the village, and every young girl flocked to them like sheep, but out of all of them, Marmion and Corbin were the only ones that actually learned to read. Corbin was the eldest, and Mother was able to educate him enough before Father taught him “the real skills.” Corbin assumed that since Marmion helped Mother so much he was probably the most literate out of all of them. In a sense, Corbin felt that he needed to protect Marmion because of that. He had run off because Father had scared him, but at the same time, Corbin had been the one to point out the deer. He had started the whole thing. And now it was his duty, to both himself and his mother, to bring Marmion home safely.

     “Hey, do you hear that?” asked Burkett presently.

     “I don't hear anything,” Avenant replied.

     “Ssh,” Corbin said tensely. He had heard it too; Burkett wasn't wrong. A sort of…thudding? Clanking? Corbin couldn't tell; he had never heard a sound like it before. But whatever it was, it was far off and making quite a ruckus. Though as Corbin listened, the noise seemed to grow louder and louder…and closer. It was coming closer. And as it did, he began to distinguish the sounds of different voices.

     “Steady, men,” Corbin whispered, and his brothers laid their hands on their weapons, not ready to draw them just yet. As the clutter came closer, Corbin's grip on his arrows grew tighter and tighter. What were they carrying with them? Some kind of machine?

     But then…there was something else, amidst all the noise, that almost seemed to carry some kind of tune. Strangely enough, it was…kind of a familiar sound. Sometimes traveling musicians came to perform at the local tavern; he had heard the same kind of music there, only quieter.

     “Wait a second, they're playing something,” Avenant exclaimed. “It almost sounds like…”

     Corbin blinked, the answer coming to the forefront of his mind. “Yeah…that's clavichord music.”

     And that was when the strangest—and equally most startling—thing Corbin had ever seen veered around the corner of the hallway: a horde of furniture. Specifically a wardrobe, a coat-rack, a mantel clock, a grand harpsichord—the source of the tune—a footstool, and a cart with a teapot and teacup resting on top.

     For a second nobody moved. Corbin looked to the other boys, but they were just as confused as he was. These objects were definitely the source of all the clanking noises, but where were the people they heard talking?

     “There they are!” yelled a voice suddenly, one sounding oddly like an old man. Corbin blinked in surprise, wondering where it came from, before he saw that the mantel clock was brandishing a small rod of metal at them, like some kind of sword.

     “What the…?” Avenant whispered. Corbin could scarcely believe his eyes.

     That's not possible. There's no way…

     “Charge!” cried another voice, this one sounding like a child. The teacup then jumped—jumped! like a frog!—from the cart to the top of the footstool, knocking the clock off. And with that, the objects all moved, charging down the hallway towards the boys.

     “RUN!” screamed Corbin, notching an arrow to his bow. “Split up, all of you!”

     His brothers were too keen to obey; the twins ran in one direction, while Burkett ran in another. Corbin set his sights on the largest object there—the wardrobe—and let the arrow fly, but it hit the gold patterning and glanced off, and by that time they were nearly upon him.

     Guess I'll just have to improvise. And after taking a few breaths, he bent his knees and dove underneath the legs of the harpsichord and around the wardrobe's wide girth, waiting until most of them had passed him by before standing back up. He turned to run, but instead felt something hard slam into his cheekbone. He cried out and tried to dodge the unexpected blow, but he felt another one land on the other cheek. He stumbled, his vision a little spotty, before his attacker finally came into focus—it was the coat-rack.

     It must have stayed behind to deal with me, Corbin thought. His head was still spinning a little, but he tried to reach for his hunting knife all the same—and got another blow to the jaw; this time he tasted blood.

     “No,” he whispered, putting his fists up, trying to find the right stance. He was not going to get downed by a piece of furniture. He was here to rescue his brother. He was going to find him, find the others, and get out of this wretched—

     A sharp pain in his ankle. Corbin winced and looked down to see the mantel clock, who had poked him with the metal rod it had been holding before. But that had taken his focus away from the coat-rack, who landed three more blows—in rapid succession—to his face and shoulders. In trying to dodge them, Corbin tripped and fell flat on his back, gasping for breath.

     “Ha! That'll teach you,” exclaimed the old man's voice, which Corbin realized—to his horror—was coming from the clock. Furniture moving on its own was one thing, but talking…?

     “You…” Corbin grasped the clock firmly by its midsection, sat up, and chucked it away from him, as hard as he could throw. The thing cried out—as if it could actually feel pain—and bounced several times before hitting the opposite wall of the corridor. “That'll teach you.”

     He prepared for an assault from the coat-rack again, but looked up to see that—though it tried, it couldn't bend over far enough to reach Corbin. He was on the floor, and the coat-rack's spinning arms were mere inches from Corbin's face, but they couldn't touch him. But Corbin wasn't going to stay and wait until it got tired (Did furniture get tired? How would he know?). He had to find the others. Which meant that maybe it was time to play a little dirty.

     “Please,” he whispered. “I'm just looking for my brother. He's all alone here…if you could just tell me what you've done to him…?”

     The arms stopped spinning and rose away from his face as the coat-rack stood tall again. Corbin sat up hesitantly, only to notice that the coat-rack was gesturing towards a staircase with one of its arms.

     “Up there?” Corbin asked. “Right. Thank you. I'll just…be on my way, then.” And with that, Corbin lunged at the coat-rack's base and pushed at it—making the thing topple to the ground—before standing up and retrieving his bow. “You could have been tricking me. Nothing personal. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find my brothers.”


     “Don't just stand there, Archard, do something!”

     “I'm trying, but there's just too much fabric!”

     “Do you have a sword or don't you?!”

     Of course he did, but it wasn't made for slicing through rolls of expensive fabric. Especially when it was wrapping around his twin, tying him up and suspending him in midair, just out of Archard's reach.

     The fabric in question was coming from the drawers of the wardrobe-thing that had chased the two of them into this room. It had tied Avenant up without a second thought, and Archard was trying to free him. But whenever he cut the fabric down, more just kept coming.

     “You'd think a wardrobe would run out of space,” Archard exclaimed, before turning on the wardrobe, who was in the middle of singing some kind of song. He raised his sword. “Y'know what—I'll just hack this thing to pieces a—!”

     THWACK.

     The sword flew out of his hand as Archard fell flat on his back; something had hit him square between the eyes with enough force to send him keeling over.

     “What…?” he mumbled, and groped around until his hand closed on the thing that had hit him—a key, from some kind of instrument. In fact, he could hear an instrument playing now, accompanying the wardrobe's singing.

     Wait—singing? Accompanying? How hard have I been hit? He managed to stand up, but the entire room was blurry and spinning. Avenant could barely be seen amongst the swathes of fabric—what was it trying to do, suffocate him? And where was Archard's sword in all this? He'd dropped it when he fell over…

     “Look out!”

     Archard straightened up at his brother's warning, but before he could turn around, something slammed into him from behind. He tried to step forward to steady himself, but he slipped on a ribbon and barely managed to turn his head before he fell flat on his face.

     “Ow…what the…hell…”

     He was barely aware of Avenant's screaming, but the world was getting even dimmer and harder to cling to anyways. Before he blacked out completely, he could have sworn he heard other voices in the room with them, and not native ones, either…more like they came from one of the Mediterranean countries. 

     "You're not hurt, amore?"

     "No, my love, and that's thanks to you.  Come, let's catch up with the others."

     What...? What are they talking about...?  Avenant tried to push himself up to hear more, but he fell back to the floor as unconsciousness dragged him down.


     “Stay back,” Burkett pleaded as the footstool came closer. It had the talking teacup on it, and together they inched forward slowly, trapping him in a corner of one of the rooms. His hands shook as he held his pistol out in front of him, but at this point it was more of an empty threat than a warning. How could he shoot something without knowing its weak spots? And now it was too close; he might have had a decent shot if he hadn't waited until he could reach out and touch them if he wanted to.

     “I'm only eleven,” he whispered. “Please don't hurt me…!”

     “Wait, really?” asked the teacup. “I'm eleven too!”

     Burkett nearly dropped his gun. “…What?” he asked hesitantly. “Is that even…were you made eleven years ago?”

     “No, I was born eleven years ago,” the teacup corrected, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I'm a little boy, just like you! But magic got in the way of things, so…here I am. What about you? How do you know how to fire a gun?”

     “My father taught me,” Burkett answered, still a little unnerved by a talking teacup. “He's the best man in the whole village; he's the best at everything. And he wants us to be the best, too.”

     “Well, that doesn't make any sense at all,” the teacup countered. “You can't be the best at everything. I know I'd get tired of trying so hard, for one. Here, Froufrou, sit.” Burkett blinked in surprise as the footstool stopped advancing and instead sat down on his back legs, like it was a dog or something. “So why are you here, anyway?”

     “We're here to rescue my younger brother, Marmion,” Burkett said, finally lowering the gun. “Our father didn't want us to come, but my older brother Corbin insisted. So, um…do you know where he is?”

     “Yeah, we were talking to him just a few minutes ago,” the teacup said. “He was with Lumiére. They said they were going to go look for Belle, and that we should stay and defend the castle from any other intruders. So we were all going to go down to the main staircase, but then we found you guys…and thought you were going to attack us.”

     “Hey, you attacked us first,” Burkett accused.

     “You had weapons drawn,” exclaimed the teacup. “You looked like invaders!”

     “Well, you scared us! Furniture isn't supposed to move,” Burkett snapped back. “That's why we all ran.”

     “We're not furniture,” the teacup argued. “Well, not really, anyway. There's a curse on the castle. I'm Chip, and I'm the housekeeper's son. And this is Froufrou, Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza's dog.”

     At the mention of its name, the footstool sat up a bit straighter and wagged one of its tassels back and forth…kind of like a tail.

     “Wait…who?” Burkett asked. “Who are they?”

     The teacup looked down a bit. “Uh—the wardrobe and the harpsichord. They're married.”

     “What?” Burkett's brow furrowed. This night was just getting stranger and stranger. But in a world where a teacup could talk, he supposed it was entirely possible for a wardrobe and a musical instrument to be married and own a dog. That was also a footstool. “…Okay.”

     Hesitantly, Burkett put his gun away and knelt down. The footstool didn't look like any of the other dogs Burkett had seen, but he knew that it definitely wasn't a dog like his father's hounds. Still, his hand was shaking slightly when he held it out. “Um…here, boy.”

     The footstool stood up, its tassel-tail wagging slightly, and trotted up to Burkett's outstretched hand. It sniffed it for a few seconds—which Burkett found weird, considering it didn't have a nose—and then yipped a couple of times. He looked to the teacup—Chip. “Um…?”

     “That means he likes you,” Chip encouraged. “You can pet him, if you want.”

     Burkett obeyed, moving his hand to the top of the footstool, where the cushion was, and started scratching it. He had no idea if what he was doing was right, but within a few seconds, the footstool leapt into his arms, knocking him onto his back. It yipped again, and sidled up to him in an attempt to lick his face.

     Burkett laughed, enjoying this a lot more than he initially thought. “You really are a dog, aren't you?”

     Chip jumped up and down in excitement. “Of course he is! That's what I've been saying this whole time!”


     Marmion ran through the corridors of the castle, still clutching Lumiére in his hand. Interestingly, the candelabra had started to sport some more human-esque qualities, like a waistcoat and a pair of legs where his base used to be. Overhead, the feather-duster—Plumette—flew along with them. For a moment, Marmion felt that he was the one flying. His heart was pounding, he was running faster than he ever ran before, and though he was scared, he was soaring. The Beast was fighting back, the staff were fighting back, and the castle was no-longer dimly lit. It wasn't restored to its former glory, but it was alive all the same. It was just so…wonderful.

     “I can't believe it,” Plumette said. “I thought we were doomed, and yet…”

     “We should have learned by now that nothing is impossible, mon amour,” Lumiére replied, his smile as radiant as his fire. “There is an exception to everything; one must only know where to look.”

     And now Marmion understood why the Beast had kept the staff together, especially these two. Before they even set up a plan of attack, the two of them had spent five minutes reuniting. And it would have been much, much longer if Cogsworth hadn't stepped in. And speaking of that old mantel clock, he was one of the best tacticians Marmion had ever met. Within minutes he had set up a plan of attack; he had somehow sensed that the castle was in distress. That plan was being carried out now—hopefully the rest of them were holding their own against Marmion's brothers. Meanwhile he, Lumiére, and Plumette were going to find his mother and get her to the Beast before Gaston could seriously hurt him. It was a long shot, but Marmion quickly found that breaking the curse meant everything to them. If there was even the slightest sliver of hope dangling above them, they would reach for it with everything they had.

     And Marmion was more than happy to help—after all, he could reach higher than any of them.

     Finally, the three reached the doors to the outside. Marmion set Lumiére down and went to push open the doors, but it was hardly necessary. Just like last time, the doors opened without much effort.

     But what greeted them made Marmion want to slam the doors shut again; the wind was howling, and snow whipped around them, making it nearly impossible to see the gates. Lumiére's candles were snuffed out almost immediately, and Plumette was thrown back into the castle by the sheer force of the wind.

     “M-M-Mother!” Marmion called. Already, the boy was shivering in the intense cold. “Where are y-y-y-you?!”

     How come she wasn't here yet? Marmion had glimpsed her in the window, and the castle was alive again. It couldn't have just been a trick of the wind…wait. In the distance Marmion could barely make out a small golden light. As he focused on it, he could see that it was getting larger—closer to the castle. After a few more seconds, he could make out the figure of a horse and a rider. The horse was galloping furiously towards the castle's doors with no sign of slowing down.

     Marmion grabbed Lumiére from the floor and ran to the side as the horse burst into the castle, skidding to a stop by the foot of the main staircase as the door slammed shut behind it. Marmion's mother was sitting atop the horse, wrapped in her brown traveling cloak with her brown hair askew. Marmion had never been so happy to see her in all his life.

     “Mother!” he yelled as she dismounted, and ran up to her. “You came!”

     “Oh, my little boy,” his mother said, wrapping her hands around his face, through his hair. “You're not hurt; thank heaven. But...where's Gaston? And the Beast?”

     Marmion nodded, and took her hand in his. “Come on, we'll show you the way.”

     “'We?'” echoed his mother. “What do you…” But she trailed off as Marmion stepped aside.

     Lumiére and Plumette had recovered quickly. The candelabra stood there with his candles burning so brightly that Plumette hovered higher away from him than usual, but looked as graceful as ever.

     “Lumiére?” she whispered, with the same excitement as Marmion had had. “And Plumette! How…?”

     “My dear mademoiselle, when have we ever been predictable to you?” Lumiére asked, grinning.

     “Well—when you put it like that, I suppose…” Marmion's mother trailed off, half-laughing, half-awed. But the moment didn't last for too long.

     “Come on,” Marmion urged, tugging at her hand. “We have to get up there!”

     “Oh—right,” replied his mother. “Lead the way.”

     “With pleasure,” Plumette answered, flying ahead of everyone else. “Not a moment to lose!”

Chapter Text

     “Did you really not realize that you were housing my son in your castle? How pathetic!”

     The Beast reeled backwards as Gaston thrust the knife at his head. Now that the huntsman was back on his feet again, he was proving to be even more difficult than before. He burned with an anger that the Beast only recognized in one other person…but that person was long dead, washed away by a woman's kindness.

     He's not your son,” the Beast roared, and pushed him backwards towards the wall.

     Gaston staggered, grabbing onto a torn tapestry to steady himself. His blue eyes flashed with rage and savage joy. They were so different from Marmion's; his were kind and accepting.

     You can't judge people by who their father is, now can you?”

     How could I have been so stupid? he thought miserably. I should have learned by now. He even stepped in front of me. Tried to protect me.

     “Imagine it! You showing hospitality to my own flesh and blood!” Gaston laughed and lunged again, but the Beast ducked out of the way. “It seems fate wants you dead more than I do!”

     He's Belle's son. He never had any of this man's cruelty. He doesn't deserve it.

     “What's the matter, Beast?” Gaston yelled. “Are you always going to try to run?! You'll never be able to run from me!”

     The knife came up again, glinting in the moon's cold light, but this time the Beast was ready. He shot forward and grabbed Gaston's wrist, pinning him against the wall. With his other paw he plucked the knife from Gaston's hands and threw it out the window of the West Wing. I'm not running,” he snarled. “Not anymore.”


     “Quickly, quickly,” urged Lumiére, but Marmion doubted his legs could carry him much faster than they already were. Even his mother was having a hard time catching up to him, and she had a longer stride. Plumette flew ahead, leading them up the stairs to where Gaston's yells were heard.

     “How are we going to stop them?” Marmion asked. Now that he was thinking about it, Gaston would not be willing to back down from the challenge the Beast was presenting him with.

     “I don't know,” Lumiére admitted. “I can only hope that our friends are coming to help. But we'll think of something.”

     Marmion scanned various hallways as they climbed, searching for any sign of his brothers or the rest of the staff, but there was nothing. I hope they didn't get hurt too badly, he worried. Bullies or not, they're still my siblings.

     A loud crash resounded from upstairs, followed by a shout of surprise from Gaston.

     “Beast!” cried his mother, and by then they had reached the door to the West Wing. Marmion set Lumiére down, and together he and his mother wrenched the door open.

     “Master!” Lumiére shouted, waving his candles frantically. “Sacré bleu—!”

     “Mother don't get…close…” Marmion started to say, but he stopped when he crossed the threshold. The Beast had Gaston pinned against a pillar on the balcony of the West Wing, his massive teeth inches from Gaston's pale, shaking face.

     “Please,” Gaston was begging, “let me go…I'll leave, I'll never come back, just…don't kill me…please…”

     The Beast raised a paw high into the air and dug his claws into the wall beside the man's face, tearing through the pillar easily.

     “Beast,” his mother repeated, this time softer and kinder. “It really is you…”

     The Beast froze at the sound of Marmion's mother's voice, and turned to face her slowly, disbelievingly, like he was caught in a memory. “Belle?” he whispered.

     “Yes,” Marmion's mother replied. Her brown eyes sparkled with tears, and the smile on her face…Marmion had never seen such a smile in all his life. The way that his mother and the Beast looked at each other just made Marmion want to smile too—it calmed him and lifted his spirits. This was love. What his mother and Gaston had never came close.

     But before he could comment on the matter he heard a soft click, as though a door was being opened, and a chorus of easily recognizable voices from the far end of the room.

     “At least you and Burkett weren't harmed.”

     “Fat lot of good that did—I've still got bows in my hair—”

     “It's a blessing that we managed to lose them at all—guess most of them couldn't fit through this stairwell.”

     “Especially with Archard like this—he got hit with a harpsichord key, what in all hell's going on with this place?

     “It's a curse; the teacup told me! And they're actually really friendly.”

     Marmion breathed a sigh of relief; so his brothers were alright after all. Things were looking up on all ends of this misunderstanding. There would be a lot to explain to them, but Marmion promised himself that they would hear the truth after this was over and done with.

     You came back.” The Beast started walking forward, leaving Gaston to slide to the floor, breathing heavily, eyes wide. “I never thought you would...”

     “They told me you were dead,” Marmion's mother said, still using that soft, kind voice. “They threw Papa into the asylum—if only I had come and investigated for myself, I could have found you and this never would have happened…”

     “Told you,” Marmion said to the Beast, grinning. “I told you she still loved you.”

     And I'm an idiot for ever believing otherwise,” the Beast said. “For thinking you hated me—that everything you did meant nothing—”

     “Never,” his mother replied. “I swear, I never meant for this to happen, any of it. If there's any way we can start over—make things right…?”

     They were within an arm's length of each other now, and both still looked like they were walking in dreams, in some other world that wasn't this one, like the illusion might shatter any second. And that was when Marmion heard another click—this one very different from the sound of a door…

     I want that more than anything,” the Beast said, his already deep voice thick with unshed tears. He began to reach out to her, still hesitant, still careful. “And you…you really love me?”

     …but one that Marmion recognized.

     “I do,” his mother said earnestly. “With all my—”

     No!” Marmion screamed. Don't—!”

     BANG.

     The Beast cried out in agony and fell to his knees. Marmion's mother was immediately beside him, cupping his massive, face in her hands; tears were rolling down her face as she begged him to hold on. Lumiére and Plumette ran over to the Beast's other side to inspect him and try to make him get up. Gaston emerged from the shadows standing tall, his blue eyes alight with renewed flame. In his hand was Burkett's pistol, still smoking.

     “So,” Gaston declared, his voice trembling with rage. “So. You would really choose this monster, this abomination, this thing—you would choose it over me? You really are as crazy as your father—be grateful I didn't throw you in the madhouse and kill him instead!”

     “Father, what are you doing?” Corbin protested. “That's our mother you're aiming at!”

     “Look at you.” Gaston continued to advance. “Disgusting. And here I was thinking that you were just spouting nonsense that night, that it was all some silly girlish delusion. And once we get back to the village, it will be.”

     “You're wrong,” Belle started to say, but Gaston cut her off.

     “Don't you dare think this won't go unpunished!” he raged. “A few years under D'Arque's care will set you straight—!”

     You won't touch her,” the Beast growled, putting his arm up to shield her from Gaston's view.

     “And you!” Gaston turned his fury back towards the Beast. “We seem to run into each other a lot, don't we? Well, that ends now.” He pulled the hammer back.

     And Marmion was running, running at them both; he had to stop this, he had to—

     How many times do I have to kill you—”

     “PLEASE DON'T SHOOT!”

     “—before YOU STAY DEAD!”

     BANG.

     Belle screamed, the Beast roared, and Marmion's brothers gasped in shock.

     Marmion inhaled sharply and stopped where he was, bemused.  He stared at Gaston, who blinked, surprised.  And then he fell to his knees, his head spinning, as the dizziness began to set in.

     "Oh no," he whispered.  "Oh no..."

     “Father,” cried Corbin, aghast, "what have you done?  What have you done?!"

Chapter Text

     Gaston blinked, a bit bewildered when he didn't hear the Beast cry out a second time. He was certain the gun went off…then his eyes found Marmion, who was slowly sinking to his knees in front of the Beast, red spreading from a spot on his abdomen, staining his vest and shirt.

     “What—you foolish boy—!” Gaston exclaimed, but he was cut off by another noise.

     Belle was screaming—tears streamed down her face as she left the Beast's side and dropped to her knees beside Marmion, begging for him to look at her, repeating over and over again that it was going to be alright.

     Oh, of course. Marmion was Belle's favorite; he'd forgotten. Marmion could hardly call himself a man at all, always obsessed with books and writing and the sort of things that would keep someone inside closed doors for the rest of his life. He shuddered at the thought of weapons, hunting, even the woods, which surrounded Villeneuve from all sides. In fact, the only time that he'd seen Marmion stand up and do something worthwhile was within the past hour. Even if he was defending the Beast, it was a moment that Gaston had to acknowledge. Still, he was pointing his short-lived bravery in the wrong direction.

     Well, it seems that he'll always be a disgrace.

     Avenant, Archard, and Burkett remained by Gaston's side, but they were far from unperturbed. Avenant's eyes looked like they were never going to close again. Archard looked a little worse for wear, but his mouth was open in a perfect O of shock. Burkett didn't sink to his knees or anything, only put his head in his hands and screamed, his cries wracking through his shaking form. He looked ready to break at any moment. Perhaps it was because the gun was his. Or perhaps seeing blood was different when it didn't belong to an animal.

     But Corbin—Gaston's favorite, by far—did move. He dropped his bow and rushed over to where Marmion and Belle were and grasped Marmion's hand, which was now pale and slick with blood. It was hard to tell what he was saying—his voice was rather hushed—but he appeared to be in the same state of panic that Belle was in. What was he doing? He didn't seem to be trying to console Belle…was he going to try and save Marmion? Gaston would applaud him for his efforts, but the child had always been a weakling, and judging by the amount of blood he had already lost, it would be a miracle if he managed to survive this.

     “No sliver of remorse?” asked a sudden voice beside him. “Not even for your own son?”

     Gaston turned, expecting some other attacker, but only saw the old beggar hag that sometimes wandered through the streets. Except upon looking closer, she wasn't a hag, but a young woman, standing tall and fair, wearing the rags he had always seen her in. Her hair was scraggly and blond, and her eyes were a strange shade of amber—almost gold—and despite her calm demeanor, they burned with a barely leashed fury that even made Gaston a little uneasy.

     “You truly are the monster Belle thinks you to be,” she continued. “You cannot see the qualities that make a person human. Sometimes those qualities define who they are.” She stepped closer to him, and a very cold feeling began to creep into his chest. “Were you born this blind? Or did something happen? Even I don't know the answer. But there is one thing I do know.”

     What was with this…presence? Gaston had never felt it as they passed each other in the market square, or when he saw Belle help her here and there. Hell—was this even the same woman? He glanced around, but no one else seemed aware of the beggar's sudden appearance. Had his war visions started up again?

     “A...Agathe…?”

     “You have already done more than enough.”

     And with that, the cold feeling gripped his heart and head like a fist, and the world blurred and blackened around him.


     Strangely, Marmion felt nothing.

     The ceiling was shaking and blurring above him, and he was aware of Corbin slicing off ribbons of his cape to use as bandages. He knew that his mother was grasping his hands, and encouraging him to look at her. She looked so scared, so unlike the person he had seen only seconds ago, filled with love and light and happiness.

     “Mother…”

     “I'm here, I'm here,” she answered immediately. “Don't worry, love, don't worry—just stay awake, alright? Don't close your eyes—look at me—I'm not going anywhere—”

     “I'm scared.”

     “Don't be,” she replied, forcing a smile through her tears. “Everything's alright, just lie still for a few minutes, okay? Stay with us, love, stay with us.”

     “Is…” Marmion raised his hand—it was harder than he remembered—and reached out towards the wall, where he could see a blurry mass of brown fur. “The Beast...is he…?”

     “I'm here…” came the reply. It was a lot weaker than what Marmion expected to hear, and a terrible surge of guilt seized him then. How bad were his injuries? Would he survive?

     “My fault,” Corbin muttered. “Could have stopped him—didn't—too late—my fault—tried—too scared—I'm sorry, oh my god, I'm so sorry—”

     Marmion found his brother's hand and squeezed it, not caring that his hands were a little wet.

     “N...o…” he whispered, trying to console him, but Corbin had entered some state of shock; he couldn't be comforted. So instead he reached for the Beast again—he had to make sure he was all right—he didn't deserve any of this pain or suffering…in fact, he was as much a part of this family as anyone else in the room (save for Gaston, of course). Marmion grew up with him and the tales his mother would weave when they thought no one else was listening. He would have dreams about a castle full of light and talking animals and talking plates—and he would be so sad when he woke up; the sound of the hounds' barks was never a welcome noise. Grandfather would always describe him as terrifying in appearance, and his mother would always describe him as good and pure of heart. Just needed some getting used to, she said. Just needed some getting used to.

     “Hey…” Marmion muttered, then again, louder… “H-hey. Are you…you're...not...is he…?”

     His mother looked over at the Beast, and her face just crumpled. Marmion couldn't imagine how torn and she felt right now. He wanted to tell her to go see the Beast, but he couldn't seem to form the words. Now that he thought about it, it was getting a lot harder to breathe…

     “Marmion,” whispered the Beast, with his great, powerful voice. How fragile Marmion must be now; to feel the air move when the Beast speaks. “Why did you—what were you thinking—I've been such a fool—agh— His voice abruptly cut off as he grunted in pain, and Marmion's mother immediately turned her attention towards the Beast, telling him not worry, that they were together now, that she'd never leave him again, so don't leave her, please don't leave her.

     Marmion smiled. He wanted to laugh, but he didn't have nearly enough strength for that. Even now, when his vision was nothing more than shadows and silhouettes, he knew he did something right. He had brought the two of them back together again. Finally, their story could have a happy ending. But that was only if the Beast could live through this…

     “Don't—don't die,” Marmion gasped. “Please—you have to li...ve...” His mother was screaming something now, and so was the Beast, and so was Corbin; they were all mixing together in a cacophony of noise...but it was too far away to hear. “…Because…she loves y...ou...and I—I…” He reached out, and something soft and gentle wrapped around his hand, trembling, but with pain or sadness Marmion didn't know.

     “I do…too...P…”

     He tried to finish it, tried, but it had become far too difficult to speak. Too difficult to do anything, really.

     Then the pressure stopped, everything disappeared, and he didn't feel anything at all.


 

     Agathe could sense it was too late when she moved. She didn't need to hear Belle's cry of agony to know that, nor the presence of the two servants' spirits as they disappeared when their master was shot. Gaston's three sons had moved immediately after his head hit the floor, rushing to shake him awake, to ask what happened, did that monster get in a blow after all. She was just as invisible to them as she was to the other four across the room, yet she moved towards them anyway. She heard what Marmion said. There was only the matter of if he really meant anything toward it.

     Belle had only made it halfway to him, but after a glance at the older one, Corbin, she knelt by the Beast's side and whispered some words to him. He smiled at her, but it wasn't a smile he was proud of. Agathe could sense it; he didn't want to feel happy, especially after experiencing the death of the only child that's ever accepted him as he is.

     Corbin was either unaware of Marmion's passing or couldn't accept it; he was still ripping his cape to shreds and trying to force them around the wound in his little brother's chest. The Beast had retreated to the far end of the room, and he looked a little worse for wear as well. Red was spreading rapidly across his shirt and fur, making it matted and sticky. His eyes were unfocused, and he grunted in pain every time he moved. It wasn't hard to place the expression on his face: while rather muted, it was the same face that he had all those years ago, when his own mother had passed away. Grief. Grief because he believed he was responsible for it. Grief because he had only caused Belle greater pain instead of happiness in this moment. And grief because he heard that last part of Marmion's sentence. And he never thought he could ever be a father for anyone. Especially not a father to a child that would love him.

     And Agathe smiled. As far as deadlines went with her curses, she always stuck to them, no matter what happened. But it had been fifteen years. Even after being beaten down by Gaston, even after thinking the Beast was dead, Belle still had the thought—and the bravery—to tell her youngest son all about it, about the love she still had for this monster, even though he was only becoming a memory in her mind. To keep him alive, she and her father made the Beast into a fairytale for her son. And now, that same son had jumped in front of him to protect him. Had given up his life for him. Just like the Beast gave up his life for Belle.

     She glided over to where the two lay, grasping each other's hands, him saying how nice it was to see her, but she shouldn't have come. Her nearly yelling at him not to talk like that; she had gone through so much already, so he can't die now. He loves her, he said, with tears in his eyes. And she loves him, she replied. She's always loved him.

     Agathe looks over at the rose, with all its floating petals, and looks out at the scene before her, all blood and grief and panicked confusion. Even back when she was a child, she had never seen love like this. Not only did he earn the love of a bookish commoner from a run-down village, but he earned the love of her son as well.  And instead of dying for them, he had to watch one of them die himself.

     Bring back the light, she mused, and sighed before moving towards the rose. Well, I'm not as heartless as people believe, now am I?

Chapter Text

     Marmion didn't know what death felt like. Out of all the deaths he'd heard about in Villeneuve—which weren't that many—he'd never heard of someone getting shot with a gun. He'd only seen the animals that Gaston and his brothers brought home. He would shudder and turn away until Corbin had butchered the poor creatures to sell for a few extra livres. He'd wonder if they ever suffered, if they were ever in pain before their lives ended.

     But out of all the feelings he had imagined for these animals, he never thought death would be this…warm.

     A quiet, gentle warmth was wrapping around him, dulling the pain in his side, lulling him to…no, that wasn't the right word. He wasn't going to sleep—it was as if he was already asleep and was being shaken awake by someone else.

     And then came the light. At first he only saw little pinpricks, like stars in the sky, but soon this light was surrounding him. It was golden in color and sparkling like stained glass, wrapping him in a cocoon of magic and wonder. With every second, he could feel his strength returning to his limbs and alertness flooding through his mind, pushing him, forcing him…

     Wake up.

     Marmion's eyes flew open, his heart pounding in his chest, air flowing through his lungs like it never had before. The ceiling of the castle swam before him in perfect detail, and the face of his oldest brother immediately appeared before him, tears streaking his cheeks and welling in his brown eyes—his mother's eyes.

     “Oh my god,” Corbin whispered. “Oh my god—”

     Marmion started to say something, but before he could get the words out, Corbin had him wrapped in the tightest hug he had ever experienced.

     “Don't you ever—ever—” Corbin stuttered, choking on his own breath, overcome with emotions Marmion never thought he was capable of showing. “I thought you were dead. Hear me? We thought—we thought you died—don't you dareever—do that to us again—!”

     Marmion didn't know what to say. He was too shocked. He had died. He had been dead for…he didn't know how long…so he simply nodded and patted Corbin on the back, silently trying to calm both of their nerves. He couldn't tell Corbin the truth—mainly because he didn't know the truth himself. He was alive. But he had died, he had felt it…so what had brought him back?

     But after Corbin finally let go of him, the rest of the room came into view. Burkett, Avenant, and Archard were sitting near the other side of the room, staring in awe at the room, Marmion, and countless other things. And Marmion didn't blame them—the castle was absolutely gleaming, even more than it had before. Sunlight streamed through the mended—mended? How?—windows of the West Wing, bathing everything in a warm, golden glow. Dust had been wiped off of all the surfaces, the candles had regrown, and the air was alight with a happiness so great that Marmion felt like he could touch it.

     Gaston was lying in a corner of the room, unconscious and unresponsive to the curious prodding his of sons. The gun had seemingly melted away in the light; Gaston's hand grasped firmly on nothing. He would have a lot to answer to when he woke up.

     And then his eyes found his mother, who had just broken apart from…a man he had never seen before. He had light brown hair that fell to his shoulders, tanned skin, and a smile—one that was kind, and forgiving, and somewhat…familiar…then his gaze broke away from Marmion's mother and settled on Marmion himself.

     For a moment, the two just stared at each other, taking in the other's features. The man's face was lined with years of struggle, hardship, and sadness, but the look on his face washed all of that away; he was filled nothing but relief, happiness, awe, and something else that Marmion could not name. Slowly, he reached out—not taking his eyes off Marmion's for a second—and tentatively ran his fingers through the boy's hair, almost as if he couldn't believe he was able to.

     “Marmion,” he said softly; his voice—also familiar-sounding—was almost too soft, as if it was missing something. “You miracle.”

     Marmion was staring into a pair of deep blue eyes, softer and gentler than Gaston's, far more braver and stronger than his own. Eyes that had watched over him for the past two days, eyes that he had come to befriend and believe in…and suddenly everything clicked. It was him.

     “…Adam?” Marmion exclaimed.

     The man laughed, and Marmion was enveloped in the second embrace that day, one that was filled with a kind of love he had never been able to experience until then: the love of a father. And the love of a friend. Marmion hugged him back fiercely, not sure if he'd be willing to let go.

     The pieces came together in breathtaking detail. The curse was broken. The castle was restored. Everything was going to be alright. After fifteen years of darkness and turmoil, everything was going to be alright.

     His mother was next, kissing him all over his face and wrapping him in a gentler hug, full of whispers of worry, relief, and reassurance.

     But then the air was filled with shouts of joy and laughter, and the three looked around to see that they weren't entirely alone in the room. Two other figures had appeared—seemingly out of nowhere—and were now kissing as if there was no tomorrow. One was dressed in an outfit that looked to be woven completely out of gold; his coat, trousers, and jacket were all yellow with golden trim. His wig was white, curly, and appeared to be smoking slightly, but he didn't notice. He was too busy staring, rapt, at the woman beside him. Her skin was brown in color, and her wig and dress were adorned with feathers. Her dress was as white as the clouds, and it gave off the illusion that she was floating, or just about to take flight. They almost seemed like…

     “Lumiére! Plumette!” Adam exclaimed, and the couple turned towards them, surprise coloring their faces.

     “My prince,” the man greeted, “it's so good to see you!”

     Marmion's heart skipped a beat. That voice…it was Lumiére. And that made that woman in white Plumette…but they looked completely different a few moments ago. It was so bewildering to see them as actual people—after all, Marmion's mother only knew of them as talking objects, not human beings. Seeing them like this…seeing them all like this…it was just so...so...

     “Oh, Marmion,” his mother exclaimed suddenly. “Are you alright? What has you crying like this?”

     “What?” Marmion replied, startled by her comment. “I'm not...” But even as he was saying the words, he put his hand up to his face and felt them—little streaks of wet warmth trickling down his cheeks.

     Gaston had trained his sons to never cry. Crying wasn't a very manly thing to do. And yet...tears had finally come.

     “You are so brave, little one,” Plumette said, laying her hand on his shoulder. Merci beaucoup.

     Marmion stiffened as a new wave of heat flooded his eyes. All his life, he had never been called brave by anyone except his mother. He barely knew Plumette in person…barely talked to her when she was no more than a cleaning tool. And to receive praise like that...he nearly broke right then and there.

     “Th-th-thank you,” he stammered, trying to keep his voice steady. “Th-that means a-a lot…!”

     And everyone was laughing then, all joy and love and triumph in the air. Adam had his arms around both Marmion and his mother, and Lumiére and Plumette wrapped each other in their arms—Marmion made sure to look away this time—but he was laughing just as much as everyone else was. At long last, he was finally free. 


     “Who are…they…?”

     Marmion turned around to see Corbin, who had risen to his feet. His cape lay on the floor in tatters, and he looked more worse for wear than Marmion had ever seen him. He was gaping at Lumiére and Plumette, his mouth trying to find the words to speak.

     “They…they just appeared…out of nowhere…”

     Marmion had almost forgotten he was there. Marmion looked over at his other brothers, who had now assumed the same look as Corbin. That's right—they didn't know about the curse, or the stories, or any of it—they had no idea what was going on. Frantic footsteps were echoing around them, and suddenly the doors to the West Wing flew open, and in came a tiny ball of white and brown fluff, wearing what looked like a tiny embroidered blue cape. It ignored Marmion and the others, choosing instead to rush straight at Burkett, whose eyes nearly popped out of his head as it leaped into his arms and showered him with little puppy kisses.

     “Froufrou, slow down! Your owners will be worried about you!” cried a voice, and a young boy ran in after it. He wore a gray vest and trousers, with curly brown hair that reached his jawline. But as soon as he caught sight of the dog, he skidded to a halt and his mouth dropped open in shock.

     “Burkett!” he yelled. “Oh my gosh!”

     “Um—what—uh—?” Burkett spluttered, still trying to control the wriggling dog in his arms.

     The other boy grinned mischievously and put his hands on his hips. “I told you I was born eleven years ago!”

     Now it was Burkett's turn to gape. “What—Chip?!” he yelled. He then looked at the dog he was holding, and it slowly dawned on him. “Froufrou?! But—but you were—and he was—what's going on?!”

     And that was when the entire company decided to enter the West Wing, all clamoring over each other in their efforts to be heard.

     “Chip? Oh, my darling little boy!”

     “Cogsworth, mon ami! Looks like we still had some time after all!”

     “Lumiére. I see you haven't changed at all.”

     “Maestro, look! I knew we'd find him!”

     “Froufrou! Finalmente!”

     There was an older woman in housekeeper's clothing whose eyes lit up when she saw Chip, a much older gentleman wearing various tones of brown and dark gold, leaning on a cane, a tall, lanky man dressed entirely in black, and a couple that looked like they came straight from the opera—the woman's wig was three times the size of her head, and the man's jacket was so elaborate that Marmion thought it to be a costume of some kind. Though it was an understatement compared to the woman's dress…those two were definitely the performers. And at the man's exclamation, Froufrou jumped from Burkett's arms and ran around in circles around the duo, yipping happily.

     Marmion laughed and started towards Corbin. “I have a lot of explaining to do, don't I?” Corbin nodded wordlessly, eyeing the man in black with a hint of uneasiness. “Well, do you remember the stories Mother used to tell? This might sound strange, but most of them are real…”


     After several hours of reconciling with the residents of the castle, Belle rode for Villeneuve. She was riding Phillipe; Agathe's horse had seemingly vanished after she arrived. She wanted to stay longer, she really did, but now that the spell was broken, she had one more thing left to do.

     As she rode through the streets, she noticed that something was happening to the villagers. People were running out of their houses, mounting horses, and wrapping themselves in traveling cloaks. Belle heard Monsieur Jean shouting “Beatrice! Chip! I remember now! I have to see them!” and the old fishmonger looked happier than Belle had ever seen her, and was putting an old pocket-watch away in her bag. “It's his favorite, of course, he's kept me going all these years!”

     As Belle neared the asylum gates, Monsieur D'Arque didn't even seem to see her; he only stood there with a strange expression on his face, like he was on the verge of remembering something important. Belle dismounted, grabbed the keys from a hook on the wall, and ran in, bracing herself for the cries of the troubled, but even the asylum was different; the patients were all resting peacefully, their anguished expressions wiped away in the rays of the sun. But she wasn't there for any of them. She was there for the man closest to the back, his hair frazzled and hanging around his skinny frame.

     “Papa!” she exclaimed. “Papa, it's me!”

     “Belle?” Maurice murmured, and turned around, meeting her gaze for the first time in years. “Belle! Is it you? Oh, my sweet little girl, it really is you!”

     “Papa, I've missed you so much,” Belle said as her eyes filled with tears. “But I've come to get you out—you're not spending any more time in this horrid place. Come back to the castle with me—we can live there now; Gaston will never bother us again—!”

     “The castle?” Maurice repeated as Belle unlocked the door to his cell. “But I thought the castle was destroyed—”

     “No, Papa, it's still standing, and more beautiful than ever.” Belle threw open the door and wrapped her arms around her father, tears spilling freely from her eyes now. “And the Beast—his name is Adam—he's alive, and he's human now…they all are!”

     “What? But how?”

     “He was cursed, the whole castle was, but we broke the curse, Papa, and now he's invited us to stay—me, Marmion, Corbin, and Burkett and the twins, too! Stay with us. Please say you will.”

     “Belle…my little angel...” Maurice returned the embrace fiercely. “Haven't you learned by now? Wherever you go, I'll be with you. As long as I can, and longer. But still…the Beast is alive...and human? It's unbelievable.”

     “I've learned to believe in a lot of things, Papa. I've learned so much.” Belle helped Maurice to his feet and put her arm around him. “And once you get there, you will too. I promise.”

     Maurice nodded and put his head on her shoulder. “Oh Belle, I've missed you so much...and I'm so glad you haven't lost any of your spirit.”

     “Everything I am is because of you,” Belle replied. “Come on."

     "Let's go home.”

Chapter Text

     Ten days later, Marmion thought he would never stop smiling.

     As he stared out at the massive ballroom, at the people dancing and laughing with each other, he never felt more alive. The madame and the maestro performed in a corner, giving life to every inch of the ballroom. Corbin and Cogsworth were standing in the back of the room, engaged in a conversation about ancient civilizations—Corbin was always a bright one, though he never read as much as Marmion did. Burkett and Chip ran around the dancers and tables, chortling as they snuck up behind random people and tried to scare them. Froufrou looked very much like he wanted to join in, but stayed obediently by Madame de Garderobe's side as she sang. It was a sweet song, not too loud, but brightened the room all the same, only enhanced by the chords from Maestro Cadenza's harpsichord.

     The two really were performers. The best he had ever heard.

     But they were dwarfed in comparison to Marmion's mother. The gown she was dressed in seemed to be woven out of the rays of the sun itself, and it flowed as she spun and glided around Adam, who was adorned in blue and gold like the prince he was. The two could have been flying; they never looked so happy.

     In fact, everyone looked like they wanted to fly. All of Villeneuve had come for this ball, anxious to greet the people that had been wiped from their minds. Staff and villagers mixed and weaved around each other, dancing and laughing and talking. The fishmonger Clothilde danced with Cogsworth, Monsieur Jean twirled Mrs. Potts with a look of purest love, Père Robert exchanged a few words with Agathe, and those triplet girls that used to visit sometimes talked with Chapeau, who was revealed to be their older brother.

     Even Marmion's grandfather—still skinny but incredibly well-kept—traced the scene across a gigantic canvas, his blue eyes finding everyone, capturing everything, his fingers never stopping for a moment. Gone was the haunted look in his eyes. Gone was the perpetual shaking in his hands and shoulders. And gone was the despairing expression that all patients of the asylum wore; as he caught Marmion's eye for a split second, Marmion saw a man who had finally found peace, a man with a smile forever hovering over his face, no matter how stern it would get. Then the moment passed, and the artist was back, not wanting to miss any more.

     After Marmion's mother had arrived with her father, the village had all but dropped everything and stormed the castle—not with pitchforks and torches, but with simple trinkets, things that their loved ones had left them, tangible memories. There was weeping that day, both tears of sadness and tears of joy. Marmion even noticed that the old headmaster had a daughter, and she was wiping away his tears as he embraced her.

     And as everyone poured into the castle, a young girl—couldn't have been more than seven—climbed the stairs to the West Wing and found Gaston, unconscious on the floor, armed with nothing but his belt and his boots. Avenant and Archard hadn't moved either; they were still staring at what the castle had become. Once the crowd had quieted down, Marmion's mother had spoken up. She claimed that Gaston had been an abusive husband, as well as an abusive father to their five sons. That the Gaston they all thought they knew was an illusion, and that there wasn't any hope for him.

     And then Marmion—with the help of Corbin and Burkett—explained his flight into the woods and his discovery of the castle, cursed for twenty-five years. He told everyone about the staff, frozen in forms that didn't even belong to them, and the prince, cursed to live as a Beast for all time. He told them the truth, horrible as it was. Then he pointed them out in the crowd: Lumiére and Plumette, standing together, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts, Garderobe and Cadenza, and Chip and Chapeau, who were both standing by Burkett, who was still getting used to Froufrou's affectionate leg brushes.

     Corbin made sure to enunciate—so even the tiniest of ears could hear—all the times he was fooled by his father's brash behavior, thought it admirable, and looked down on his youngest brother because of it. Burkett admitted that he only followed in the others' footsteps because he didn't want to get bullied like Marmion did. Marmion's mother claimed that she loved Adam and that she was going to leave the lodge that Gaston had built and stay at the castle with her father.

     By the time they finished, even Monsieur D'Arque seemed convinced. He declared Marmion's grandfather a free man right then and there, as well as other inmates that he had accepted over the years, ones that claimed there was a gigantic castle in the woods, or ones that Gaston had put there himself.

     And this was when Gaston chose to wake up. In a state of panic, he fumbled for a weapon, but saw that there was none around him and rose to his feet, demanding he see the Beast. He strode up to the villagers, but they all stepped away from him fearfully, ignoring his pleas. Even LeFou, Gaston's most loyal friend, stayed quiet and still and refused to meet his eyes. It took Marmion stepping forward and revealing that Gaston had shot him earlier that made the hunter stop and take in the scene in front of him.

     Marmion's mother told him that it was over, and that everyone knew the truth about the monster that he really was. That he was done for, and that he shouldn't have made Marmion hide from who he was for all those years, because he saved them all.

     Gaston had flown into a rage and lunged for Marmion. And his hands would have found the young boy's throat if Adam hadn't stepped in and landed a fist to his face.

     Gaston reeled from it, dropping to one knee as everyone else looked on in shock. The two stared each other down for what seemed like hours before Gaston asked who he was. And Adam said something that Marmion would never forget.

     I don't think it matters. Do you?”

     D'Arque produced some chains and stepped forward to admit Gaston into the asylum. It took four of the village's strongest men to drag him out, and as the crowd parted Gaston seemed to lose himself completely, yelling atrocities and fearful threats at someone who had retreated into the crowd. Marmion never saw who it was, but he glimpsed an old, ragged cloak and a flash of golden curls peeking out of it. Then they were gone, and Adam embraced Marmion, asking if Gaston had scared him, if he was alright.

     Just like that, it was over. Everything was over.

     And even though Marmion felt like celebrating, there was still something a little...strange about all of it.

     He was going to live in the castle with Adam and the rest of the staff. He would have more than enough books to read, and even more time to focus on his calligraphy skills. He would have friends to play with and talk to every day, and Burkett and Corbin were treating him like family. He would even have Adam as a father, a father that wouldn't strike him because he didn't know how to hunt, or yell at him because he spent too much time in his head. That alone was enough to make Marmion smile.

     But there were things he was going to miss. He would miss the small corner of the church that held Père Robert's meager collection. He would miss the small meadow at the corner of Villeneuve that he used to run away to. The smile he and a beggar woman shared as he ran off to fetch groceries for dinner. The small corner of the lodge where he could see the moon and read and write to his hearts' content. The grateful chorus of relief when he managed to sneak into the asylum without being spotted by D'Arque. The other inmates seemed to love him.

     Villeneuve wasn't an entirely terrible place to live. There were little things that made it his, too. And now that he was in this castle, surrounded by light and sound too sweet for the village, it still didn't seem real.

     “It's beautiful, isn't it?”

     Marmion blinked, a bit startled, as the voice of Mrs. Potts roused him from his thoughts. “Oh—yes. It's amazing.”

     “I don't believe I've ever seen so much joy in one room before,” the old housekeeper said, lost in her own world. “Well, not for a time, anyway.”

     “Was there another time?”

     “Oh, long ago, before you were born,” Mrs. Potts laughed. “Back when the master's mother was still alive. There was always sunlight and warmth in the castle back then.”

     “Really?” Marmion asked. It was nice to know that Adam's mother was just as kind as his own. But the way that Mrs. Potts spoke suggested that that wasn't the entire story. “What happened?”

     “Oh, nothing you need to worry about,” she responded. “People pass away all the time, and his mother's time came a bit too early. That's all.”

     “Oh. I'm sorry.”

     “It's nothing for you to be sorry about, love,” Mrs. Potts said with a smile. “What's done is done. But I'm glad that the master still has his mother's spirit after all this time. Shame on us for thinking she had ever left for good.”

     Marmion stared at Adam across the room. There was almost no trace of the Beast anymore, no trace of the moody, depressed creature he had found in the remains of a castle. He wondered if Adam's mother died when he was young. Maybe that was when the castle truly became cursed. Maybe that was why the Beast had seemed so forlorn—it wasn't just Marmion's mother that had left him. He truly had lost everything that made him who he was.

     At least Marmion had his mother.

     “Mrs. Potts?”

     “Yes, child?”

     “I wonder…” Marmion took a deep breath. “What will happen after this? So much has changed in the past few weeks. We're happy now, but…Villeneuve will have a lot to adjust to. Gaston practically ran the village after he married my mother, but now that he's locked up…and our old lodge—it wasn't much, but I was born there…what if I did something worse for the village in advance—?”

     “Now, now,” Mrs. Potts chastised. “I won't have you thinking like that. You should be reflecting on the things that you did do. And cheer up a bit, because I won't have any grief at a celebration like this.”

     “Hey, Marmion!”

     Marmion and Mrs. Potts turned as Chip ran up to them, a huge smile on his face. “You wanna go play hide and seek with us? We asked Lumiére, and he said it was alright as long as we didn't use the ballroom.”

     “Of course you'd ask Lumiére,” Mrs. Potts sighed. “Not Cogsworth, the actual master of this castle…”

     “Because he would say no,” Chip replied, pouting. “Come on, please?”

     “It's been ten days, Chip,” Mrs. Potts said, but there was something in her voice that already gave the answer away. “Aren't you ever going to get tired of running?”

     “Nope!” he chirped, and ran out of the ballroom, his dress shoes clacking against the marble floor.

     “That boy…” Mrs. Potts shook her head, smiling after him. “I don't know what I could ever do without him. I'll bet Belle knows the feeling.”

     “Come on, Marmion,” Burkett pleaded, his eyes sparkling with an excitement that had never been seen before. “It'll be so much fun if you play too.”

     Marmion smiled; now here was something he was still getting used to. The fact that Burkett even thought to ask Marmion at all was completely new, but welcomed all the same.

     “I'll catch up with you,” he said. “You go on ahead.”

     Burkett's smile faltered, but he nodded and ran off to join Chip.

     “Don't worry, poppet,” Mrs. Potts said, patting his shoulder. “You've nothing to worry about. You're in good hands here.” And with that, she smiled at her husband from across the room and walked over to join him, leaving Marmion alone by the window. He turned away from the festivities and looked out at the garden, where splashes of color shone in the summer's light. Marmion wondered how long those flowers had been waiting to bloom again. And there, by a grove of small trees, was the place where he and the Beast had built the snowman.

     He had made his mark on this place after all. He had run around here, and laughed, and given love to the creature that dwelled here. He had defended the creature from his own flesh and blood, and in his own way, helped give the castle life.

     He didn't have to step back like this wasn't the castle he knew anymore. He had helped it along, just like Adam, and his mother, and the servants, and even the other villagers. Because he had reached out and touched it, sought refuge with it, it was a part of his world. And he could enjoy it as long as he wanted.

     Marmion could feel tears behind his eyes again, and it made him want to laugh. Now he was even free to cry when he wanted to. Gone was his lonely life as the quiet, bookish son of Gaston. Now he had the father he was supposed to have. They had saved each other.

     So, he straightened up, adjusted his shirt, and stepped towards the dancing, and the laughter, and the wonder.

     This, he thought to himself, is my family.

     And this is where I belong.