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never judge a book

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Maurice is getting older, and Belle… Belle’s not getting any younger. He wants grandchildren one day, wants his daughter to be happy, and well, marriage seems to make most women happy, right?

Unfortunately for him, Belle was born and raised in Paris – city of love and light and art. Belle wants more than to just get married and have kids and die of old age in a tiny provincial town in the middle of nowhere. Belle wants adventure and romance.

Now, Gaston. Gaston is 1000% convinced that he’s in love with her, and refuses to marry any other girl (much to the chagrin of his groupies), and so that pretty much means that as the village’s golden boy, they’re pretty much on his side for this matter and constantly saying stuff to Maurice about him.

“Such a nice young man,” one woman comments.

“He’s going to make a wonderful father,” coos an elderly grandmother.

“Excellent hunter, that Gaston,” praises the butcher, holding up six plump pheasants by their tail-feathers in one meaty fist.

So yeah, Maurice caves. He caves so hard. Because he wants what is best for his daughter… and well… Gaston is the best. Belle is not happy about this. But she’s a good girl, and quite frankly, she has absolutely no survival skills, and really loves her dad, so she does as she’s told.

So Gaston gets the girl, and they sign on the dotted line before the whole village – and this guy is the happiest fucking man on the planet.

Until they shut the door to their new home, and Belle whirls on him with all the viciousness of a wild boar. This tiny little woman, who can’t weight more than a hundred and twenty pounds, has him pinned to the wall with her eyes, is practically spitting lightning.

She tells him how it’s going to go. He might have her as a wife, but that’s in name only. They will not be sharing a bed. Or else.

And yeah, that threat sounds feeble, but Gaston’s mind goes dangerous places – he’s terrified that she’ll make sure to be seen smiling and flirting with every man in the village, and then some, and the last thing he wants is for his wife to run off with a band of gypsies. Because something worse than not have getting married to her – is the concept of getting married (an oh look, he did) and then having her leave him.

He’s not happy about this, but well… she looks scary. And serious.

And so… they just exist. And they fight. Over stupid shit.

And then he goes off to the pub and drinks himself silly with his mates, and she cries her eyes out at the dinner table with a place set for one.

There’s no fire in their hearth.

Their home is an empty façade.

And this fucking sucks.

And then one day, Gaston is in the next village over, passing through after chasing a flock of geese (bang, bang, hello dinner) and he sees this bookshop. So, y’know, he tries.

But, well… Belle is rather unimpressed at being presented with a cookbook. Like, excuse you, asshole.

He tried okay. But in all honesty, Gaston doesn’t really understand the point of books.

He says as much.

She throws the book at his head.

“What the hell woman? What kind of books do you read then?” He squawks, rather upset at having his ‘thoughtful gift’ literally thrown back in his face.

Belle sighs. He’s an idiot.

That evening, he’s sat by the fire (it’s too cold now to leave it unlit, autumn is creeping to a close), polishing and cleaning his gun. It’s his pride and joy, and a very important tool that requires proper care.

Belle cautiously settles in a nearby chair, book in hand.

“Nobody ever read you stories when you were little, did they?” She asks. It’s a thought that’s been circling in her head all day – he grew up with a father and two older brothers, mother dead from a wasting sickness – there’s no way he had somebody reading to him before bed.

“No,” he agrees, eyes unfocused from the memories, “they didn’t.”

Then Belle opens the book, and begins to read.

It’s an old story – there’s a Princess and a Dragon, and a Knight in shining armour. There’s a castle on a hill, and a kingdom that will need a King.

And… after a while, Gaston’s steady rhythm of wiping oil up and down the barrel of the gun begins to slow as he’s drawn in. Belle’s voice is steady and warm, and the heat from the fire is making him sleepy.

By the time Belle reaches the last page, the gun is set on the hearth, and they are both yawning.

And then it’s over, and time for bed.

And tentatively, Gaston asks, “Can… can you read another one tomorrow?”

Belle beams.

And that’s just what they do.

It’s ridiculous, because at first Gaston doesn’t understand what’s happening in the books, and he’s always interrupting her – to the point where Belle starts smacking his shoulder (at this point, he’s tucked into the couch with her) in order to shush him.

And then it graduates to them arguing over the plotlines and who should get the girl at the dinner table – and sometimes the breakfast table if they don’t agree to disagree the night before.

So they get along. Quite happily actually.

And they start to get to know each other.

They even sleep in the same bed – although they silently agree that sex is still off the table. For now.

Gaston loves to listen to her read, loves the way she just lights up when she talks about books, and Belle learns that his pride in shooting isn’t just a ‘let’s kill shit’ deal. It’s hard work, and he’s spent years learning. And he’s proud to be able to provide for a family.

And they fall in love.

Gaston fell in lust with Belle on a Sunday – her first Sunday there, when everybody was at church, but he falls in love with her on a Thursday. And like, he doesn’t know when he started to hear people say “oh she’s a funny one, she’s nothing like the rest of us that Belle,” and think ‘you’re only half right,’.

Belle doesn’t know when she fell in love, but it’s late on Monday afternoon when she figures it out. And it frightens her, because she’s learnt to love him, and their life together.

Sometimes she dreams about tiny children with brown hair and blue eyes, with his smile and her laughter. It scares her, because she still wants more. Still wants adventure. But at the same time, she’s happy where she is, doesn’t want to leave the home and life that they’ve built together.

It starts to twist her thoughts and dreams far more than she’d like.

And then comes the tale of two star-crossed lovers from fair Verona, on one balmy late summer’s evening.

(Oh wow. Bad idea. Abort abort abort.

The engines have stalled, and this ship may go crashing into an iceberg.)

It’s straight up the worst fight they’ve had in, well, ever…

Belle is a romantic, completely in love with the story.

And Gaston? He’s a realist – doesn’t understand what is wrong with Juliet’s parents wanting the best match possible, or see what the deal is about Paris. She’s too young to be making decisions for herself.

Why couldn’t Juliet be happy with Paris – Belle’s happy with him, right?

Right?

Belle doesn’t answer. She is. But she doesn’t want to admit it – it feels like it’d be admitting defeat.

They fight.

Oh god, do they fight.

The neighbours pretend they don’t notice, but good lord, the gossip in the morning is delightfully scandalous.

Belle goes back to her father’s house for a week.

And then he goes missing, and she goes chasing after him.

There’s a castle full of animated inanimate objects and a beast, and her father is in chains…

She trades herself without a thought – because she’s ruined her marriage, right?

Maurice tearfully flees back to the village, only to find that nobody believes him. They think he’s insane with grief because Belle is missing and there are tear tracks dried on his cheeks.

Gaston rages, grieves, panics, worries… but it doesn’t change the fact that Belle is gone.

Time passes. Things happen. Gaston sits alone in an empty home. Empty chairs are tucked into an empty table. There’s a hole in his life where the sun used to be.

Autumn fades into winter, winter melts into spring.

Eventually, in a castle hidden from the world, the spell breaks, just in time for the last petal to flutter from its bearer.

The household cheers in victory, Adam is overjoyed – thinks that he’s found his one true love.

He spins Belle around and around in his arms, and drops to one knee.

“Marry me,” He asks.

And the Belle goes very, very still.

Her hand slips out of his, and she steps backwards.

“No.”

It’s like time has frozen once more, and there is a shocked and horrified feeling in the air.

“I’m sorry,” she tells him. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”

And then the final blow.

“I’m married,” she reminds him. She’s sworn before God to be faithful to one man, and one man only.

Even if he probably hates her now. Even if he might think she’s dead.

“You have a whole world to explore, to see.” She tells him, once she’s packed up her things – nothing and no one can sway her, it’s time to go home. “There’s more to it that one little castle.”

Belle knows now, that there is way more to her simple provincial life than she’d ever expected there to be. That the best adventures are the ones you take with somebody else. And that marriage, is one of the grandest adventures of all.

And that is okay.

Adam… Adam learns what heartbreak feels like, but she’s very good at explaining things, and so he does what she says. He goes out into the wide world and he learns. He tries the food, and talks to people – visits Notre Dame and speaks with philosophers and scholars, dances with ladies from all over.

Belle makes her way home, letting herself into a home she hasn’t seen in many, many months.

“I’m, home,” she says to nobody.

And sets about tidying up – because apparently Gaston fails at cleaning.

She washes the dishes and sweeps the floor. She fluffs up pillows and lights the fire.

And then when he walks through the door, she smiles at him.

“Hi,” she says.

Gaston listens intently to her story, the whole time cradling her in his arms and barely daring to believe that she’s home safe. She tells him of a library bigger than half the villages, and of talking teapots, of singing clocks and a little tiny cup with a chip on his shoulder and the biggest smile in the world.

He listens, and he is so freaking proud of her.

She saved so many lives – and she did it all by just being herself. She did it by loving people for who they were, regardless of their shape.

She changed a beast into a man – and actually, he’s not the least bit surprised, because it wouldn’t be the first time now, would it.

Their first child is born in the spring, just after the first thaw – he’s got blue eyes (although they could change, all babies have blue eyes) and black hair.

He’s perfect.

Gaston says that they should name him Adam, and Belle cries tears of joy.

The first story they ever read to him is the story of a man trapped in the form of a Beast, and of the girl whose heart was big enough to love everybody.

Because you should never judge a book by its cover.

The End.