Belle used to dream of being a princess, just like in her stories. Every day would be an adventure, with all of the wonders and magic that her books were filled with, and she would never have to pump water or feed chickens again. Royalty, by default, led interesting and complicated lives.
She hadn't expected this.
"There needs to be much more lace, of course," Lumière was saying, as the seamstress jabbed Belle in the back with more pins. "All over the bodice –"
"Don't be a fool," Cogsworth snapped. "You and your lace – this is a royal wedding gown, fit for a queen! A blind man could see that what it really needs are rosettes!"
"Ouch," said Belle, as a pin poked her in the ribs, but neither of them were listening. She thought about mentioning that she liked it the way it was, without lace or rosettes, but there wouldn't be much point; they'd fight over it for a while and then forget about it in favor of bickering over something just as important, like napkin colors.
Being a princess was supposed to be fun. It was definitely complicated – life at the castle was a constant stream of bustle and business and things that needed to be checked and rechecked and approved, usually several times over as Lumière and Cogsworth contradicted each other, and especially with the wedding plans…
She missed the way it had been, before – well, before. Back then, even though she'd been a prisoner, it hadn't felt like it; there was so much castle to explore, even avoiding the West Wing, and then there were the grounds and the gardens, although they'd fallen into disrepair since the gardener had been turned into a trowel. If she'd wanted to spend all day in the library, curled up in front of the fire with a pile of books, she could've done it without a second thought. Mrs. Potts would've brought her dinner right in there, and sometimes the Beast would come in too, and she would read to him. It had been a quiet way of life, but she'd enjoyed it – it had been calm, but it hadn't bored her senseless, like living in the village had. But now…
Now, she was a princess, and suddenly she had to be conscious of everything from what she was wearing to the way she held her spoon, because according to Cogsworth, she held her silverware like a peasant. She still had no idea what that meant, but he insisted she needed to be more careful with her spoons.
The seamstress' needle stuck her in the hip. Belle grit her teeth.
Cinderella never had to put up with this, she thought in disgust. She got 'happily ever after, the end'. I'm getting – this!
Beast – or Adam, which was what she was supposed to call him now, but in her head he would always be her Beast – had told her she would get used to it, that this was just a crazy time for them all, and she'd wanted to believe him, but… Belle was starting to think that she was never going to get used to being a princess. Let alone a queen – now there was a scary thought! If being the Crown Prince's Royal Betrothed (or whatever her official title was now) was this bad –
"Excuse me," she said to the seamstress. (Lumière and Cogsworth were still shouting at each other, and wouldn't have noticed if she'd jumped up and down naked in front of them.) "I think this is as far as we're going to get today."
"Yes, your highness," the seamstress said, which was another thing Belle was never going to get used to. She'd told everyone they could just call her by name, but no, they wanted to be correct and proper. She thought this was ridiculous, especially from a group of people who forgot half of the time that they were human again, but out of them all, only Chip still used her real name. And he got scolded for it, if one of the more fastidious servants (or Cogsworth, who was a class of his own in that regard) were around.
The seamstress curtsied as Belle changed back into her regular gown – one of the simple ones she'd worn before, not one of the jewel-encrusted ones with hoop skirts that they tried to make her wear now, the ones that could stand up by themselves and looked more like elaborate cakes than actual garments. She'd had to fight to get a wedding gown that she could go through doors in, and yet they still wanted to cover it with ruffles and ruches and – well, Lumière and Cogsworth were still fighting over the lace and rosettes, to the point where they were just flinging them randomly at each other. They didn't even look up as she walked out of the room.
Sometimes she wished that she could walk out and right back into the way things had been. She'd just open the door and instead of servants, there'd be a troop of disembodied cleaning supplies, and at the end of the hallway, her Beast…
But of course, the hallway was full of humans, all of whom jumped up and bowed or curtsied as she passed. (The constant bowing was even more irritating than being called 'your highness' – although sometimes Belle liked to entertain fantasies of going back to the village just to see the looks on the triplets' faces when they realized they'd have to curtsy to her.)
She didn't know why she wanted it to be different. This was – this was good, wasn't it? She'd wanted adventure, she'd wanted a busy life, and now that she had it…
Somehow, she'd ended up on the balcony. If she'd been thinking about where she was going, instead of stewing in useless self-pity, she never would have come here – this was the balcony, the one that overlooked the ravine, the one that Gaston had fallen from, and the one where everything had changed…
She'd avoided even thinking about this place, but now here she was. Did this mean something? Or was it just because she'd gotten so caught up in her thoughts that she hadn't been paying attention? This was giving her a headache. She looked out over the ravine and wondered if she should go back – maybe they'd finished their stupid fight over the wedding gown by now –
"Belle," said a voice behind her, and it was too deep to be Chip's. Belle turned around, and for a moment she didn't recognize the man behind her – and then she was horrified at herself for it.
"Be – Adam," she said, and the Beast – Adam – smiled at her. His smile was still awkward, just as it had been when he'd been a beast, but without the fangs. He had come up behind her at some point when she'd been conducting her inner monologue, and now he looked out at the ravine with her.
It was still hard, connecting the kingdom's long-lost prince with her big grumbly Beast. He was everything Belle had ever wanted in a prince – he was tall and broad-shouldered and handsome, although not to the point of looking like Gaston, thank god. But she'd liked the Beast the way he had been, huge and grotesque and covered in fur. He hadn't been attractive, but – it had appealed to her, once she'd gotten used to it. He'd had fangs and claws, but he'd been surprisingly gentle, and after a while it hadn't even mattered to her that he wasn't human.
He didn't even act like her Beast anymore. He stood straighter, and he spoke politely and formally, and – sometimes, it felt like she didn't even know who he was, this stranger who'd gone back to being a prince as though he hadn't spent ten years as a beast, tearing the castle apart.
The eyes were the still same, though, and when she looked at those the rest of him didn't matter – that was when she knew it was him, and he could've been a pig with wings for all she cared. But when had she last had a chance to do that? Everything had been so busy – he'd been making decisions and visiting diplomats and readjusting the kingdom to having a prince again, and she'd been just adjusting, period, and with all the wedding craziness she hadn't had a chance to see even her father in weeks. The only time the two of them seemed to have together was at dinner, and then she had Cogsworth breathing down her neck because of the way she was holding her spoon.
"Belle," he said again, and Belle nearly jumped, startled out of her thoughts. "Why did you come here?"
"Oh, well," she started, but then she stopped again, not sure of what to say. Was there a way to take all her frustration, all of her anxiety and uncertainty, and put it into one nice little sentence that would make him understand?
But he did seem to understand, because he took her hand in his (and his hand was too small, too smooth) and said, "Are you all right?"
Belle looked at him, fully intending to say that yes, she was, she'd just gone out for some fresh air – but instead her mouth moved on its own, and she said, "No."
"Are you unhappy?" he asked. His voice had a little extra rumble to it, barely noticable, like he'd forgotten he couldn't growl anymore. "The servants know they're supposed to give you everything you need. If they've done something –"
"What? No, it's not that," she said, although she was secretly a little relieved. Not that she wanted him irritated, but…it was nice to see that her Beast was still his old self, somewhere in there. "I'm just…not used to all this."
She wasn't sure how she'd expected him to react – but it certainly was not to laugh. He caught her expression, though, and stopped immediately.
"I wasn't laughing at you," he said hastily. "I was just – I thought I was having a hard enough time of it, I didn't even think about how you must – I mean I did think about you, but I forgot that you've never even – what I mean is…"
He was starting to get frustrated, which – even though it really shouldn't have – made Belle feel better. She'd been just as bad as he had; she hadn't thought about what it must be like for him, who hadn't even spent the last ten years as human. He hadn't even worn a shirt until the night she'd taught him to dance…
"I'm not making this any better, am I," he said finally. This time, it was Belle who laughed, as she leaned up and kissed him. One advantage to him being human – now she could kiss him.
"I'm sorry," she said, after a moment. "This is all so strange to me – but I'll get used to it." She sighed, but it wasn't an unhappy sigh, and smiled up at him. "It'll be an adventure. One for both of us."
Their hands were still together, and her fingers looped their way around his. He didn't seem to really know what to say, so she just kissed him again. That helped.
"But – there is something you can do, just to make it easier on me," she told him. He blinked.
"Just name it," he said. Belle squeezed his hand, and felt better about the future.
"Can you grow a beard?"