It starts like this: she looks at his face and does not know him. She hesitates. She seeks her beloved in his features, and cannot find him, and shrinks slightly from his touch.
He tells her, "Belle, it's me."
She wants to say, you are not my Beast.
He tells her his name is Adam.
He tells her she is his princess, his bride, his queen.
She wants to say, once, all that mattered was that I was your love.
When she looks at him, this pale unfamiliar stranger, her heart does not gain a beat in her chest. When he kisses her, clumsily (he has forgotten how, she thinks, and she never knew) she feels nothing but awkwardness and uncertainty at the damp press of mouths.
She thinks it will get better. She only needs to get used to him in this new shape. She loves him, after all, he is still her Beast, and it is only right that his curse should have been broken, how could she think otherwise – but she doesn't know him any more, and she never thought she'd have to learn him anew.
When he touches her, his hands are gentle at first, hesitant, but they quickly lose that awkward charm that makes her think of the Beast's careful attempts not to scratch her with his claws, become rough and eager and she bites her lip, reminds herself that he is still the Beast, merely human-shaped once more.
(But she sees nothing of her Beast's sweetness, his tenderness. His eyes might look similar, but they never look at her like she is a queen in a peasant's dress, he never says her name like it's all that matters.)
Adam is... different. Of course he is different, he is a man and before he was a Beast, but... How can this stranger be the Beast she so loved? Nothing of him is familiar, and sometimes she looks at him, wants to throw the magic mirror at him as if he might exchange places with the Beast once shown within, wants to scream, you are not my Beast! give him back, give him back!
He looks at her – these days, he looks at her as if – as if – he is grateful for a service she provided (provides), and nothing more. It makes her feel... sick and wounded, and aware of it, all the time, like a forest creature in the snow, circled by wolves. "I am not your servant, I am to be your wife," she says quietly, "stop looking at me like that."
"You are mistaken," he says, and her heart, sleeping wounded in her chest by the Beast's absence...
like ice underfoot.
"I don't understand," Belle says firmly, holds her head up high (why should she doubt herself just because this man has a crown, she who stood against the Beast and did not move?). "Just what do you mean by that?"
"Look at me," he says and the way he tilts his head is disturbing like Gaston, the entitled arrogance of his voice.
"I'm looking," Belle says quietly, anger coiled tight, thinking you were more a gentleman in fur than you are now.
"Belle," he gentles his voice but cannot (just like Gaston, except she cannot bear to hear it) keep the underlying dismissal from it, "I am a prince. A king. I cannot marry a commoner."
"You are a prince, a king – that is precisely why you can."
"Yes," he says awkwardly, "but."
"But," Belle echoes and feels very cold.
"You are not pure."
She looks at him, so torn she does not have the words to express it.
"How can I trust – if you are willing to –"
"I love you," Belle says, not ready yet to close the book and say I loved you, surely she has misheard, surely she is mistaken, this can still be fixed. "And because I love you, I let you make love to me – how could you, how could you possibly think...?"
"You will always be special to me," he says, and behind him, light shines through the stained glass window depicting them dancing, coronet in her hair. "But I must do what is best for my kingdom – you can understand that? Marry a princess," he takes a step forward, hand reaching for her hair, to tuck loose strands behind her ear.
She slaps his hand away.
He looks at her, his blue eyes so dark and strange, and a sob rises in her throat what have you done with my Beast? "I don't want to," he says, tight leash on his voice, and she's not sure she believes him. "I would – you know I love you –"
No, she thinks, I know the Beast loved me. You, I have no idea.
"I'm a prince," he repeats, and she wants to scream what does that matter? I loved you when you were covered in fur! "You're a peasant," he says, and it feels like a blow. "I can't marry you."
"You mean you won't." Belle says. She feels odd, suddenly hyper-aware of herself while at the same time being detached. "You think – I was good enough only when you had no other options."
"No, of course not," he says, bends his head and kisses her roughly, ignoring her utter lack of response. "You wouldn't want a life like this anyway, Belle – it is nothing so easy as your books."
"What makes you think I care for things to be easy?" Belle says incredulously. "If I valued 'easy', I would have been married to Gaston."
But he is already moving away and cannot hear her.
Her hands clench in her skirts. She keeps her back straight and resolves to speak with him again, make him see--
Her cheeks are wet, her lips taste of salt. She wonders where her happily ever after went.
It starts like this: she looks at him and her eyes are blank. She frowns like she doesn't know him, when she saw him transform moments before. She hesitates when he reaches for her. She looks at him like she is looking for someone else even after she recognises him, and shrinks from his touch.
When he kisses her, she is clumsy and awkward and so inexperienced it unnerves him, but when he touches her her body responds as if it is expecting something (someone) else.
how fierce and bright and brave she is
She is beautiful, this girl beneath him, skin so smooth so soft – except the scars he can feel, ugly against his fingers because he closes his eyes the moments he touches them – and he could spend a lifetime buried between her thighs but –
her fearless hands in his fur, he could be content just to purr in her ear
(Beast, she whispers at the edge of orgasm, in her dreams, curled up beside him at night.)
It is strange, but the more time passes since his unpleasant enchantment, the more clearly he sees.
the more time passes, the less he remembers, it melts away like snow
She too is something of his enchantment.
when she left, he realised: he will love her for the rest of his life
When he was a Beast – how incredible that thought seems, how odd, something from a storybook, not something that happened to him – when he was a Beast, he loved this peasant girl. The Beast thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world, that there was nothing that could compare to her smile.
her smile, her eyes, how could he ever look elsewhere
Adam thinks he has seen courtesans far more lovely, delicate waists and elegant manners, carefully coiffed hair and artfully painted faces. Of course the girl (Belle, BelleBelleBelle) would look like more than she was in the former dankness of the castle. Anything even remotely pretty would look beautiful when surrounded by filth. But now he and his kingdom are restored and it is a very different matter.
he could possess all the jewels in the world, they would pale before her
She looks – so gauche, so – displaced. He is almost – almost sorry for her, country bumpkin (Belle, Belle) taken from all she knows. So perhaps it is pity that leads him back to her bed, as well as gratitude for breaking the curse.
he loves her so much he thinks it will break him
The Beast was in love with this girl.
He cannot imagine, how very desperate he must have been.
he cannot imagine how he could ever stop
The enchantment is over, and while he will always value her, she is something from that shadowy, terrible time he barely remembers. She is something of that endless winter – and now it is spring.