Desir grew up with a fierce longing for adventure and a love of books. The former was not considered unusual for a young man, the latter blamed upon his strange mother, Marie, the inventor. The town didn't know quite what to make of the pair- the one a handsome youth with his head in the clouds, the other an enthusiastic eccentric who never seemed to behave like a lady.
Gabrielle, the town beauty, was most vocal in her dislike of Marie, while at the same time doing her utmost to obtain Desir's attention. She had even been known to pluck books right out of Desir's hands and put them behind her back.
"You wouldn't strong-arm a lady, would you?" she would ask, fluttering her eyelashes.
And Desir, indeed, could not bring himself to use force upon her. Instead he simply said, "Gabrielle, give me my book back."
"Not until you agree to come with me to the harvest dance."
Desir sighed. "Gabrielle-"
"Everyone agrees the two of us are made for each other. It's about time you see that too." Fortunately at that moment Gabrielle tossed the book into the gutter, and Desir leaped to rescue it from the mud. "Ugh, you really care about that thing, don't you?"
"You wouldn't understand," Desir snapped, and turned to head for home.
It was that day, several weeks before his mother was to go to the inventor's fair, that Desir decided he had had enough of this small provincial town. He would take Philippa, the family horse, and ride through the forest to find some other place to live. Perhaps he would even make it to Paris.
"But you will come back, won't you?" Marie asked.
"I will," Desir said firmly. "Once I've found somewhere better, I'll come back for you, Maman. I promise."
"And you'll stay on the path?"
Desir sighed. "Maman-"
"There are things in those woods, boy, worse than wolves," Marie said darkly. "You stay on that path."
The journey started off well enough. But it was autumn, and darkness fell quicker than Desir had anticipated. The signs were worn out, and he found himself going in circles. Silently apologizing to his mother, he ventured off the path. When he reached the gates of an imposing castle, he was almost relieved.
He did not realize the Beast was a woman until she spoke, in a voice that was low but unmistakably female. Growling and on all fours, she snarled, "What are you doing trespassing in my castle?"
"I didn't realize I was trespassing," Desir said, trying to hide his fear. "Your servants-" he tried to gesture to the candelabra and clock, but found they had disappeared as suddenly as the Beast had appeared, "your servants said I was welcome. Surely you wouldn't turn out a traveller for one night?"
"One night?" the Beast said suspiciously, as if she knew that this was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to Desir, and how silently he was wondering if he could manage to explore the castle in its entirety in one night.
"One night," he repeated. "And keep to your own room."
Lumiere was, at least, delighted that Desir was staying the night, even if Cogsworth wouldn't allow him to say why. There was a great mystery to the castle and its inhabitants that intrigued Desir. It was even better than his favorite novel, and he couldn't wait to get to the bottom of it.
"Perhaps one night will turn into three, eh?" Lumiere said, winking. "And three might turn into-"
"Lumiere!" Cogsworth snapped. "It's bad enough we're allowing this man to traipse about the castle, when the master specifically forbade us-"
"Oh, she doesn't scare me," Desir said, hoping that by saying it the words would become true. "How could I stay in my room asleep in an enchanted castle?"
"Whoever said anything about it being enchanted? Lumiere-"
"I, er, figured it out for myself," Desir said dryly. "Now, what's up these stairs?"
"You can't go up there!" both Cogsworth and Lumiere cried out. "That's the West Wing?"
Desir simply looked at them.
"It's forbidden," Cogsworth said sternly.
Ah, the mystery was beginning to unfold itself. Now, if only he could find a way to get inside without Lumiere or Cogsworth knowing….
The West Wing was dark and full of broken things- mirrors, furniture, and most intriguingly, a painting of a beautiful blonde woman that had been slashed through, obviously by the Beast's claws. And then there was the rose, suspended in a glass case- but just as Desir approached it, the Beast materialized out of the shadows, snarling.
He didn't wait to hear what she had to say, but bolted, running with all his might out of the wing and down the stairs. She could kill him, he realized, and probably wanted to after he had violated her privacy. What had he been thinking?
It was colder outside than Desir remembered, and he wished he'd brought his cloak. A lone (he hoped) wolf howled, somewhere in the forest. Wolves don't attack people, he reminded himself, wolves don't attack people. All he had to do was find his way back home, to a warm fire and his mother's loving embrace-
A wolf, no, three wolves, blocked his way. He turned back, and there were three more wolves. Wolves don't attack people… unless perhaps they were very, very hungry, and hadn't been able to find a viable food source.
One of the wolves howled.
The rest was a blur. He thought one of the wolves might have leaped for him, but was stopped by a dark shape that Desir only later realized was the Beast. The animals tangled with each other, while Desir stood, frozen to the spot. Perhaps he had hit his head, he thought vaguely, as the wolves fled the Beast's wrath.
Finally they stood there, the two of them.
"You saved my life," Desir said at last.
She shrugged, not meeting his eyes.
Afterwards, he did what he could to clean and dress the Beast's wounds. Desir was no doctor, but he had often cut himself up climbing trees as a child, and remembered what Marie had taught him. The Beast was an enormous baby about the entire affair, but did manage a grudging 'thank you' once it was done.
And somehow, Desir truly wasn't afraid anymore.
She showed him the library, and it was more than he had ever dreamed of. Scouring the shelves, Desir spots some of his old favorites, as well as new tales he's never heard of before.
"It's yours," she said
Neither of them spoke of the one night he was originally going to stay.
The Beast may look beastly, but underneath she's as frightened as he once was. She's easily embarrassed (so he goes out of his way to make her feel comfortable) and terribly insecure, in a way he's surprised to realize he finds endearing. When he first threw a snowball at her, she was so shocked it took her a whole minute to scoop up a bundle of snow and go looking for Desir.
"Which is your favorite?" the Beast asks Desir one day, when they're sitting by the fireplace with a stack of books he collected from the library earlier.
"The Falcon's Feather," Desir said dreamily, lifting a red volume. "Would you like to read it?"
"I- that is, I would, but-"
"You can read, can't you?"
The Beast lifts her claws, and suddenly Desir understands. The pages would tear apart.
"What if I read it to you?"
"I'd like that," she mumbles.
Desir enthusiasically spins a tale of three brothers, the eldest two selfish and the youngest an eccentric who one day asked for the feather of a falcon. Their father was able to find gifts for two of the brothers easily, but he searched in vain for the falcon's feather, until one day he encountered a strange old woman who offered him exactly that.
The feather, as it transpired, was magical, and with a wave, the youngest brother was able to summon the falcon herself, who turned into beautiful princess as soon as she landed in his room.
"But how did he know the feather would do that?" objected the Beast.
"He read about it in a book," Desir said patiently.
"That sounds awfully convenient."
"Can I continue with the story?"
The beautiful princess and the youngest brother turned out to have a great deal in common, and conversed daily with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the eldest brother could hear her voice coming from his brother's room, and suspected something. Many times he tried to burst in on them, but every time he found the youngest brother alone in his room.
"How did he know?"
"That the eldest brother was looking for the princess?"
"It's magic, you just have to suspend your disbelief."
The Beast muttered under her breath, but allowed Desir to continue.
Finally, one day when the two younger brothers were doing chores, the eldest brother stole into the youngest brother's room. He found the feather, and blocked up the window. Meanwhile, the middle brother slipped sleeping potion into the youngest brother's cup so that he would not hear the falcon beating against the window.
That night, sure enough, the falcon came to the youngest brother's window. Beating his wings against the window, he cut himself on sharp objects that had been hung on it by the eldest brother. Farewell, my love, she called. Now I must go away to a far off country, and marry a man I do not love. If you wish to find me, you must walk through three times nine countries. But first, you must wear out three pairs of iron shoes, break three iron walking sticks and gnaw through three stone-hard loaves of pilgrim's bread.
"And that's all for today," Desir said, smiling as he closed the book.
The Beast's jaw dropped in outrage. "But that's not fair! I want to know what happens next!"
"You'll just have to wait until tomorrow."
At first, she thought the Beast was going to throw a tantrum. But slowly her scowl turned to a smile. "That was a wonderful story. Thank you for reading it to me."
"You're welcome," Desir said, startled. "It was my pleasure."
She kept on surprising him. She taught him how to dance, leading at first until he was confident enough to take the lead himself. (Desir wondered if this was what Mrs Potts had been so secretive about for weeks)
Afterwards, she gave him the magic mirror. "It will show you anything your heart desires," she said, and Desir was awestruck at the generosity of such a gift.
"Show me… my mother."
Marie was in the woods, looking around fearfully. She stumbled over a log, and Desir cried out. "She's looking for me! I told her I'd return, and I never… this is all my fault. Please, I need to go to her."
"You don't need to ask my permission," the Beast said, sadness apparent in her voice. "You're free to come and go as you choose."
"Thank you." Desir clasped her paws with heartfelt gratitude. "Thank you so much. For everything."
He tried not to hear the all-too-human howl of anguish from the castle as he saddled up Phillippa to ride for Marie.
Everything is worse than Desir had imagined. Marie explained, once they returned home, that the townspeople, led by Gabrielle, blamed her for Desir's disappearance, and that there had even been talk of a madhouse.
"Why would they put you in a madhouse?"
"I, ah, may have said something about the old legend… you know the one. The legend of the Beast in the forest."
"But that's no legend, that's true!" Desir cried out. "I've been living with the Beast for months. And she's kind, and gentle, and has been perfectly wonderful to spend time with."
"Do you really think that?" piped up a new voice from the sack of belongings Desir had snatched on his way home.
"Chip?" he said uncertainly, opening the sack. Sure enough, the little teacup hopped out. "I didn't want you to go, Desir," the teacup said plaintively. "And you have to go back. Mama said there's only a few more days until the spell-"
"The spell? You mean what's keeping you all as objects?"
"I don't know," Chip said, and it was clear he was being honest. "I only know the petals are falling off the rose and that means something bad's going to happen. And you can stop it happening."
Desir was torn. On the one hand, he had to stay and prove to the villagers that he was alive and his mother was sane. On the other hand, if the Beast was in trouble--
His choice was made for him when a loud knocking shattered the silence.
"Desir!" Gabrielle seized his arm possessively. "I'm so happy to see you're alive. Unfortunately, your mother has been very ill."
"Gabrielle, you know that's a lie," Desir said, trying to contain his fury. "My mother is as sane as you are."
"Is that Desir?" a familiar voice called out.
"Welcome home, Desir!"
Gabrielle's face darkened, and her nails dug into Desir's arm. "She's been rambling. The whole town heard her going on about how there was a Beast in the forest."
"But there is a Beast in the forest," Desir said, trying to get out of the beauty's grip. "I've been with her."
"He's as mad as the old woman!"
Desir remembered the mirror, and yanked his arm away from Gabrielle. "I can prove it!" He leaped for the magic mirror and held it up high. "Show me the Beast!"
He wasn't prepared for the screams of terror and the gasps of dismay. Desir lowered the mirror, and saw the Beast bellowing to the sky. "My fault," he said softly.
When Desir made his way at last to the castle, the villagers were gone. They're safe, he's sure- it's spring, and the wolves are likely too busy chasing rabbits to bother. But he saw the Beast's familiar form on the roof, underneath Gabrielle, holding a crossbow's point to her neck.
"Beast!" he shouted, for after all this time, he still doesn't know her name.
It worked. Gabrielle turns, distracted, and the Beast threw her off.
Desir dismounted quickly, and raced into the castle, up the stairs, thinking, my fault, my fault.
By the time he reached the roof, there was no sign of Gabrielle. Only the Beast, lying on her back, heaving breaths that came out with obvious difficulty.
"No," Desir cried out, throwing himself across the great bulk. "No, it can't be. Gabrielle couldn't have-"
"It's all right," she breathed softly, raising a paw to cup Desir's face. "You came back."
"Of course I came back," Desir said, fighting back tears. "I- I was always going to come back."
The Beast said nothing, simply looking at him, breathing raggedly.
"You can't die. You can't."
She closed her eyes.
"I love you," Desir whispers.
Her name is Rose. She was transformed into a Beast when she refused shelter to an old woman who turned out to be a great fairy in disguise. She is a princess, and when Desir marries her, he will be a prince.
All this information is imparted in a matter of minutes, but it takes days for it to fully sink in. A princess. His Beast, a beautiful princess.
"And your mother can live with us, we've more than enough servants to accommodate her and her inventions," Rose says, beaming. "I'll send word to my parents- they left after the curse, they'll be so delighted to hear from me."
"I can't be a prince," Desir says dazedly. "I don't know a thing about politics."
"In all those books you read, there was never any statecraft?" Rose laughs. "Don't worry, I know all about it. It's boring, but you'll learn. And there's plenty of time- I'm second in line after my brother, so we should get most of the benefits without all the bad parts."
Rose is so happy, there are days when Desir almost forgets that she was the Beast. But then she'll turn to him, and take his hands, and lead him in a dance, and he'll look deep into her eyes.
And he knows.