“And then I tossed his boots out behind him.”
The Beast’s laugh boomed off the library walls. “What an idiot!” he cried, grinning ear to ear.
Belle handed him another book to place on one of the higher shelves, and laughed along with him. It was hard not to, for his amusement was warm and contagious. It was strange—her first impression of the Beast had been one of disgust, for his temper was unhinged and his gloom so deep.
But then he fought that pack of wolves, and she discovered his ceaseless determination.
And then he gifted her this library, and she saw his fervent excitement.
And then he’d confessed his past to her, one silent night alone, and she saw his deep remorse.
And then came his laughter, so bright and alive. And it was then that Belle realized he simply did and felt everything completely, that each feeling came with as great a force as the other. That his joy could be as deep as his pain.
Beside her, he chuckled once more. “You know, Mrs. Potts is always saying once I’m human again I’ll have to stop being so—” He stopped mid-sentence, frozen with a book raised to reshelf in one hand. “I…I mean—”
“Human again?” Belle asked in shock, barely comprehending the words. Then she gasped. “You mean...are you saying the curse can be broken?”
He was staring at her now, eyes round and terrified. “W-well, um…” He trailed off, cursed under his breath, and grimaced. “It’s just…”
“It can be!” Belle cried. “Why have you never said anything?”
The Beast ran his large palms down his face, looking towards the staircase behind him as though searching for an escape. “Just forget I mentioned it. Please?” he begged. “It’s…it’s embarrassing, Belle.”
Belle frowned. “Embarrassing? What does that even mean?”
He didn’t answer. He wouldn’t even look at her.
“The curse can be broken,” Belle gasped. “Broken! You can all go back to the way you were! Please, tell me. Certainly I can do something to help.”
And finally, he looked back at her and stared. Stared, with an utterly incomprehensible expression on his face. He cleared his throat. “You…” he tried, then stopped. “God, I don’t know how to…no. No, I’m not doing this.” He took a step closer to the banister, gripping the railing so hard it cracked. “Look, you don’t need to…I mean, it isn’t…”
And still he failed to find the words. And so instead of answering her he turned, leapt over the balcony, and sprinted to the doors far below for escape.
Belle watched him go in absolute bewilderment. For this…this was an extreme reaction even for him.
“Next is…Snow White,” Belle noted, cross-legged on the library floor and surrounded by several piles of thin books. These she’d pulled from the children’s section of the library, a surprisingly large area on the ground level that she’d been picking through all afternoon. Chip accompanied her, for obvious reasons, the only member of the staff who hadn’t changed the subject, feigned illness, or flat off run away from her when she tried to ask them how the curse could be broken. She assumed the ten year-old hadn’t done so himself simply because he was just as clueless as she was.
“Let’s see, so this curse was cured with, um…” She paused, and pursed her lips, instead opting just write the conclusion down in her notes.
True Love’s Kiss.
The phrase had been written several times already beside its corresponding titles. Sleeping Beauty. The Little Mermaid. Snow White.
True Love’s Kiss. True Love’s Kiss. True Love’s Kiss.
Belle cleared her throat, and set the list aside. “You know the problem here? These are all women!” she declared, clapping her hands together. “Why must they always suffer the curse? Surely we can find the reverse in here somewhere…”
“What about this one, Belle?”
She turned, and watched as a slim book from bottom shelf slowly inched its way free. As it popped out and fell to the floor little Chip followed, grinning at her in triumph.
Belle picked up the book and read the title. The Princess and the Frog. She opened it, skimming though quickly. “A man cursed to be a…yes!” she cried. “Oh, the parallel is almost too perfect. This has to have the answer.”
“Read it aloud, Belle!” Chip said in earnest. “And do the voices!”
And so she did, settling down with the book in her lap and the little teacup watching from her shoulder.
“Just in that moment,” Belle read some minutes later, “the ugly little frog looked up with his sad, round eyes and pleaded: ‘Oh, please, won’t you help me? For this terrible spell can only break in one way.’
“‘And what is that, my friend?' asked the princess in return.
“‘Dear maiden, it is nothing more than true love’s…’” Belle stopped, and read the word quietly.
“Belle?” Chip asked, nudging her ear. “Aren’t you going to finish the story?”
But she only lifted him gently from her shoulder to the floor, and drew herself to her feet. “I’m sorry, Chip,” she said slowly. “I just need some time to…prepare.”
Belle could barely see the outline of the large grandfather clock in the dark, silent halls of the West Wing. But she knew it was there, one of the few pieces left lifeless in a castle of animated objects, and she knew what it said.
Five minutes to midnight.
Perhaps sneaking into the Beast’s chambers at such an hour was excessive, but in everything she’d read it seemed the hour of magic if there truly was one. And if she was going to do this…she was going to do it right.
For it all made sense to her now. Why he wouldn’t tell her, why he’d been so utterly mortified when she’d asked.
He needed a kiss to break the spell.
Could she blame him for being embarrassed? She was embarrassed! She had never even kissed a human and he was, well…not quite one of those, at the moment.
Belle paused outside his bedroom doors, and sucked in a breath. None of that mattered. She was brave, and fairly certain that the Beast cleaned his teeth on a regular basis. What was there to fear?
And so she reached down, rolled up her sleeves, and quietly pushed open one of the large chamber doors.
Belle peeked inside, but all was still. So she tiptoed through the small opening and gazed over the moonlit room. It actually looked like he’d let someone in to tidy the place up since her first time here—no more broken furniture, torn curtains, or shredded portraits.
But no—one torn painting remained. The first she’d seen, leaning alone in a far corner. It seems no one had wanted to touch it, to see the piercing gaze that lay beneath. Belle stepped towards it quietly, not fearing to lift the torn cloth herself—but instead of curiosity this time, she felt sadness as the face appeared. For the Beast had told her enough by now for her to guess at the pain behind the destruction. It was enough to give her that last drop of confidence she needed. And so turning, Belle moved towards the bed.
He was there, a dark mass in the shadows, chest rising and falling with shallow breaths. He lay on his back, snoring quietly, the bed creaking ever so slightly with each breath. Belle moved beside him and stood, frozen in fear for a long, terrible minute.
And then he grunted—sending Belle’s heart straight into her toes—and rolled onto his side so his back faced her.
Belle nearly groaned aloud at the lost opportunity. Cursing silently at herself, she tiptoed around the other side of the bed and carefully—oh, so carefully—crawled onto the mattress to his side.
And there she sat, crouched in her nightgown in the middle of the night, watching the master of the castle while he slept.
You, Belle DuPont, are a creep, the rational side of her said. It had been asleep itself until this moment, apparently. An utter creep, who would put Gaston himself to shame.
I’m here to help him, Belle thought back in irritation.
You could always—oh, I don’t know—ask him if he wants a kiss when you’re both awake, the voice retorted.
Belle panicked at the mere thought, mentally shoving the voice somewhere deep inside and focusing back on the Beast’s large upper lip that jutted out while he slept. If it weren’t for the looming task at hand, she might have noticed how adorable he appeared this way. Instead Belle brought her hands to her face, skin burning like fire against her palms. She’d always craved adventure, to be like the heroes she’d read about—but sacrebleu, she’d never imagined it could be so nerve-wracking!
And then she heard it. The sudden ding! of the grandfather clock, the first of twelve. Jolted into action, Belle placed her hands on the mattress beside him, lowered herself to his level…and hesitated.
He’s your friend, Belle thought sternly. Your friend, and your—
Do you want to come back here again tomorrow night?!
Six more chimes, and with each one she let her face inch closer to his until on the twelfth and final chime she had no choice.
And so Belle kissed the Beast, as softly as she could manage, right between the fangs.
Mmm, this...isn’t so bad, she realized after the initial shock, absorbed by the smell of firewood in his fur and the feeling of that warm lip against her own two. A new, surprising part of her considered reaching up to touch his cheek, letting the kiss linger just a little longer…
And then he moved. Belle’s eyes shot open to see his two bright blue ones staring at her in the darkness. “Oh god!” she cried, pulling back and stumbling into the bed’s tall banister.
“Belle?” He said her name sleepily, sitting up lifting his fingers to his mouth. He felt his lip for a long, confused moment, then looked up in shock. “Did…did you just…”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, kneeling on the mattress and covering her face in her hands. “I shouldn’t have come…o-or I should have asked, I just…”
“No, Belle, I’m…I’m not mad,” he said. She felt him move, the mattress sinking beside her. “Quite the, uh…opposite, actually.”
And so Belle looked up, and her heart fell even further into her stomach at the sight of him sitting beside her. For he looked the same as ever. “It didn’t work,” she whispered. “I thought…I thought it would work…”
He furrowed his brows, but reached for her shoulder all the same. “What work?” he asked carefully.
“I had it all wrong,” Belle said, shaking her head at her own foolishness. “I can’t break the curse – I’m not a prince!”
“There was always a prince in the story. You needed one of those!”
The Beast blinked. “Um, Belle…I can assure you I’m not after a prince. Actually, I’m technically already a—”
“Or perhaps a princess would do, as for the little frog,” Belle conceded, too distraught to hear him.
“But I’m not any of those,” she muttered, staring into her lap. “I’m just…a no one.”
The Beast frowned. “That’s not true,” he said seriously. He inched closer, his paw moving around her while he reached for her hand with the other. “Belle, please, I’m…confused. Pleasantly surprised,” he added quickly, smiling a bit and brushing his large thumb across her back. “But confused. What’s happened?”
“I-I thought,” she started, and felt tears pooling in her eyes, a tightness growing in her throat. “I thought I c-could break—break the spell. All the tales said—th-they said true love’s kiss would break a c-curse,” she choked out. She looked back down, too mortified to let him see her any longer. “But I should have realized you’d need a princess to make it work.”
The Beast was silent for one long, heart-pounding moment. “You...you think you’re my true love?” he breathed.
Belle tried desperately to wipe away her tears with her fingers, but more only replaced them. “I…I thought…I hoped, perhaps…” She shook her head quickly. “But I’ve failed…and now somehow I must find you a princess if you’re ever t-to…” She trailed off again as more foolish sobs began to build in her chest.
He moved closer once again, and held her close. “Belle,” he said gently. “Don’t cry. I don’t need a princess to break the curse. Or a prince,” he chuckled.
She sniffled, and looked back up. “You don’t?”
He shook his head. Then he reached up slowly and cradled her face in his paw. It seemed to shake there, and after a long moment he finally swallowed roughly, and spoke. “I think you’re my true love too,” he whispered. “O-or in other words, I…I love you.”
She stared at him, for the words had taken her by surprise. Surprise, wonder, and an all-encompassing warmth. And, well, considering she’d just kissed him in the dead of night while he slept, perhaps she was due a little surprise herself.
“I love you too,” she smiled.
And then the room grew bright, and he changed—changed right in her arms. His body growing smaller and closer. Soft fur replaced by smooth skin against her own. The paw in her hand shrinking until the fingers could wind their way through hers.
Belle barely breathed as the light faded and a human face stared down at her in the moonlight. Barely saw as he stared down at her and smiled the most beautiful, happy smile. Barely aware as he whooped, pulled her up and off the bed and spun them both around before collapsing back in the mess of sheets.
“Wait, but how did it…” she finally managed, then stopped and gasped. “Oh! Love. It was love. Was that all?”
“All?!” he cried, laughing wildly.
“Well, that was much simpler than my solution!” Belle cried.
He only laughed again, the sound growing muffled as he buried his face in her neck and pulled her into a fierce hug. Belle embraced him in return, loving the pure bliss spilling over from him, the way he smelled the same, the way his hair was still soft and how his chest still rumbled with joy like it always had. But soon she pulled back and found his face, lifting it so she could see.
They were the same too. Those eyes, so bright and alive and still the very much the same.
He stared back, reaching up to push her hair away and drawing close. “So…” he said slowly, gaze falling to her lips then back up again. He grinned. “Could I take that kiss now?”