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After the spell lifts, things return to normal.

That's what everyone says, anyway. But Belle never knew the castle's residents before the enchantment, so everything feels strange and new. She's happy for them, of course, as the days pass and they continue to laugh and embrace one another and touch their own faces with once-more human hands. It's only that she needs to relearn the appearances of the people she's grown to love.

Adam is a man again. Her Prince Charming. Her fairy tale come true. Filled with joy that he's alive and the curse is broken, she can't stop smiling at him. She reaches out again and again to touch his smooth jaw, his rounded ears, his narrower shoulders, his clawless hands, trying to familiarize herself with this new body.

Adam. Even calling him by his name takes practice. To Belle, he's the Beast. Only he's not anymore. And that's the way things ought to be, she reminds herself. He's a man and they're in love and they're going to live happily ever after.

*

In a blink, Belle finds herself standing at the altar of the kingdom's grand cathedral in the most beautiful dress she's ever dreamed of. Her father looks on, beaming and weeping. Mrs. Potts and Chip, Cogsworth and Lumière, all the staff of the castle, smile and clutch their hands to their breasts as though they'd thought this day would never come.

Some of the girls from the village attend as well. They fan themselves and heave great romantic sighs at Belle's good fortune. She's marrying a prince!

A prince. The man standing beside her. Belle gazes up at him and feels once more that initial surge of incongruity when she sees his human face. Who is this elegant stranger with his athletic profile and neatly tied-back hair?

She focuses on his big blue eyes to anchor herself. There, there's still a hint of who he was before. She holds on to it as he recites his vows to her in Adam's silvery voice.

She says her vows in turn, and then it's done. Bells ring out and the cathedral echoes with everyone's cheers. Heart beating hard, she stretches up onto her toes to meet her new husband's kiss.

*

For their master and mistress's wedding night, the servants have turned down the huge canopied bed and snuffed out all the lamps except for a pair of candles. Having been helped out of her dress and jewels, Belle waits under the covers in her nightclothes as Adam enters from the adjoining room.

They explore each other tentatively. Adam's body is entirely new to her, not only because it's not the Beast's, but also because she's never seen a man in this way before. With a mixture of relief and disappointment, she finds that Adam is equally unsure what to do with her.

"I asked Lumière for advice," he confesses as he visibly struggles to determine where to put his hands. "It was… confusing."

"Here," she says softly, and tries to help. He does the same in return. She follows his guidance with the curiosity of a bookworm, the excitement of a lover of adventures and the trepidation of a maiden.

The act itself proves… fine. She withholds judgement until they try it on a few more occasions, at which point she decides it's nice, if underwhelming.

Belle doesn't have much experience with sex. She's read about it a little, in vague, ecstatic descriptions, but she knows books exaggerate. What she feels with Adam may be all she should expect.

Still, she's always been a dreamer, and she can't shake the hope that it could be better than this.

*

Adam is kind to her. He pulls out her chair at the dining table, offers her his arm when they walk and asks her each morning what she'd like to do that day. He has Cogsworth rearrange the drawing room to give her her very own armchair by the fire, perfect for curling up with one of the countless volumes from the library. He makes sure she has everything she asks for and more.

It's lovely, and yet it's not fully satisfying. He's nice; he's fine; he's… a bit bland, if she's honest. Not that she wants to be mistreated—far from it. She just grew used to the Beast's temper as a central part of his personality. Even misses it sometimes, the way they would argue about everything from personal freedom to soup spoon etiquette. Challenging him used to light something up inside her. She remembers with fondness the way his eyes would narrow, his hair would bristle and he'd let out those low, rumbling growls before giving in to her. Adam never growls.

Adam, who is the Beast, or was. They're not different people. Yet she finds herself thinking of them as if they were: the man she knew before, and the one in front of her now. The one she fell in love with, and the one she's not sure she knows yet.

*

Adam doesn't have any hair on his chest. His voice is higher and less resonant, his mouth smaller and softer. He wears shoes over his pink toes. He's still a head taller than she is, only now she can wrap her arms around him, whereas the Beast's torso and shoulders were so broad she couldn't span them.

At night when Adam tugs the ribbon free, Belle cards her fingers through his tawny hair. Although the horns are missing, it makes his candlelit profile look more familiar. In the dark, his eyes have a faint, comforting gleam.

Belle tries not to let such thoughts reach their natural conclusion. It's silly to be less than perfectly happy with the way things turned out. After all, what normal girl would wish her prince to be a beast?

*

There was something about the Beast's gruffness. The way he loomed over her. The furnace heat of his body. The thick, soft fur that covered him crown to feet.

She misses the playful, comical sides of the Beast, too, like those two fangs that poked up from his lower jaw whenever he pouted, and the way his ears would swivel and his giant eyebrows would rise in disbelief when she did something nice for him. The way putting on a neckcloth and coat made the tufts at his jaw and neck puff up like a bird in mating season.

His hands used to be three times the size of hers. Huge and brown and warm and so, so careful the few times she slipped her fingers across his palm. Danger in those curved claws that could slash her to ribbons like that portrait hanging in tatters in the west wing; danger in the brute muscle that could crush her hand with hardly a thought; yet he never touched her with anything but the utmost gentleness.

Adam handles her gently, too, but it's not the same without that edge.

*

"Darling," Adam says one night, sounding cautious, drawing away after their customary bedtime kiss. "I've noticed that you don't seem entirely happy."

Belle's heart sinks. She never meant to betray a hint of the secret she's been carrying.

Something must show on her face, because Adam sits back with a sigh. "It's true, then. What's wrong?"

She can't tell him. Can she? No: It would shame her and wound him, and besides, there's nothing they can do about it; no use in talking it over.

"It's nothing," she tries.

"Are you not comfortable here? Is there something more you need?"

"No, no," she reassures him. "Everyone has been wonderful about continuing to make me feel at home."

"Is it your father? Do you want to see him more often?"

"We visit each other just as often as we want to." She puts a hand on his, hoping to lead him off this track.

"Are you lonely?"

"How could anyone be lonely with all those books to read?" she counters with a soft smile.

Adam doesn't return it. Holding her gaze, he says, "It's me, then."

Too late, Belle realizes her mistake. She should have made something up. She should have told him her chambers are drafty or reminded him about how she wants to travel with him the next time he visits a distant village.

"Something's been different since the wedding," he says. "Maybe even since the spell ended." He slides his hand free and gets off the bed. "There's a hesitation in your eyes. I'd hoped I was imagining it."

She wants to tell him he's wrong, but she doesn't want to lie, either.

As she struggles for words, he continues. "I don't please you anymore."

The words hurt because they're true, because he hasn't done anything wrong, really, and because she's been longing for something he can't give her. It's a wretched realization. "Adam, I…"

"You used to touch me with such warmth."

She's grown so accustomed to thinking of Adam as not-the-Beast despite her best attempts that to hear him speak of the past in the first person fills her eyes with tears. Of course he remembers how she treated him before. Of course he's been comparing.

"You loved me before." Adam's lips are thin and pale as he presses them together.

"You know I did," she says, then corrects herself: "Do."

"More, though," he accuses. "You loved him more."

Ironically, Belle feels on more solid ground as hints of the Beast's anger and impatience bleed through. She lifts her chin. "That's not fair. I knew him longer." But what can she say that will make this all right? "I'm trying."

"Who could love a beast?" he says with a rhetorical air, as if he's quoting someone. "It wasn't the beast that was the problem."

It's you, he doesn't say, but Belle hears it anyway.

He leaves the room.

*

She doesn't see him for days.

She cries, off and on. Tries to hold back the tears until she's alone, but isn't always successful.

A pall falls over the castle, as if the curse never lifted. The staff are somber as they serve her meals and attend to her dressing and bathing, exchanging glances over her head. For all their love of gossip, they've gleaned only that Belle and Adam had a fight.

Belle can tell they're concerned for her and for themselves, and it's clear they assume Adam is to blame. If he'd still been the Beast, they probably would have been right. They have no idea it's Belle's fault. That she drove her husband away by admitting she loved him more when he wasn't human.

He must think her abhorrent, to have preferred a monster.

She wonders if he'll cast her out of the castle, or if he'll disappear himself. If he'll manage to keep avoiding her until he's like a ghost in his own home. If he'll ever let her apologize so they can try to work it out.

She writes him a letter. It takes most of an afternoon until she's happy with the wording. Cogsworth, bless the man, agrees to take it to the prince's chambers.

She can hear the shouting from a wing away. It's like the early days of her imprisonment all over again.

Cogsworth returns with scraps of torn parchment in his cupped hands. Adam wouldn't even read it.

So Belle marches up to the prince's chambers and pounds her fist on the door until he answers.

"Go away," he calls from within.

"Adam, I'm sorry," she calls back. "I hate this. I hate knowing I've hurt you. Please, we can't avoid each other forever."

Silence.

Or maybe we can, she corrects herself.

Endless moments later, she catches the dull sounds of movement within.

When he speaks again, he's quieter. Closer to the door. "What did you like better about him?"

Belle flattens her hand on the door. Leans her forehead against it. "It doesn't matter," she replies. "He's you, and you're here."

"Tell me."

"Why?"

"Belle, please."

She can't. They've accepted so many of each other's quirks, but surely this would push things too far.

And yet she wants to. She wants the weight to lift from her heart. She wants to solve this problem with him together as partners, not as opponents who need to keep three inches of solid oak between them.

She just can't fathom why he would want to torture himself this way.

"Belle," he implores.

She imagines him mirroring her position, so that the warmth from his hand and hers meet somewhere in the middle of the wood.

She takes a deep breath, and tells him.

Silence, after. She strokes the carvings beneath her fingers as though they were her husband's cheek. "Adam?"

"I need time," he says, voice rough. Deep enough that for a moment she envisions the Beast on the other side of the door.

*

She gives him time.

*

Her birthday arrives. Lumière conspires with the kitchen staff to bake Belle a breathtaking layer cake adorned with whipped cream and strawberries, which she shares with everyone who appears in the dining room that afternoon to express their well wishes. Chip proudly presents her with a drawing he made of her reading beneath a tree in the garden, and Cogsworth gives her a book about the history of the castle.

Belle could only wish for one more thing.

At first, when Adam's valet strides into the dining room, she thinks her wish has been granted after all these weeks. But instead of inviting her to accompany him, he places a rose on the table and departs with a bow.

The petals are a deep, familiar pink, though they don't shimmer with magic. There's a piece of parchment tied to the stem. Belle unrolls it as those around her try and fail not to look curious.

The note contains a single line in Adam's distinctive script: Wait for me in your chambers at sundown.

*

The sun sets. Belle lets the room grow dim. She's too distracted to read anyway.

Three loud knocks sound at the door.

"Come in," she calls, trying not to let her voice waver.

The door swings outward. A huge, dark, hunchbacked figure fills the frame.

Belle knows that silhouette. Her heart starts to pound.

"Adam?"

"Belle." His voice is deep, so deep. "I've brought you a birthday present."

It can't be. She rises from the chair by the window where she's been waiting and moves slowly toward him, trying to calm the flutters in her belly. The curse ended. The Beast vanished. Yet when Adam steps into the room, it's on claw-footed, wolf-like legs. And when he ducks his head as if hesitant to look at her, his horns flash in the candlelight.

Even as she lifts her arm, she's afraid the illusion will dissolve if she touches him. Her breath catches when her fingers meet soft, warm fur.

"Do you like it?" he rumbles.

She strokes his arm in a daze. "How…?"

"I sent messengers to find a witch who could replicate this part of the spell." Those huge, expressive eyes are cautious beneath angled brows. "It's only for the night."

One night with the Beast. A whole night to… She hardly dares to believe it's happening. That Adam expended what was surely a significant amount of effort to make this happen. He can't be too angry or disgusted with her, then. "You did this for me?"

At that, he tucks back a stray lock of her hair. "For both of us."

Belle leans into his touch. Her whole head fits into his palm. He smells faintly of dogs and damp earth. That more than anything convinces her she isn't dreaming.

"Then let's make the most of it," she says.

He searches her gaze. "This is what you want, truly?"

In response, Belle does something she wishes she'd been able to before the spell lifted: She smooths her hands over the Beast's fluffy cheeks, draws his head down and kisses that full lower lip right between his fangs.

A growl rises in the Beast's chest. Before Belle knows what's going on, she's lifted off her feet and pressed into him. Since he's only wearing a cloak and trousers, it's easy to bury her face and arms in his fur and surround herself with warmth and softness as he carries her over to the bed.

"Let go," he says, low, and with a shiver of anticipation, she releases herself into his arms. He tosses her onto the bedspread, where she lands well-cushioned amongst the pillows. Her breathing quickens as the Beast follows on all fours, moving up her body, dragging his nose along her shin, her hip, the bodice of her dress, rousing a damp-sweet-yearning tightness between her legs that she's never felt with him before. She props herself on an elbow, intending to meet him for a kiss, only for the Beast to push her flat with a hand that covers her entire torso.

"Your scent is stronger this way," he rumbles. "I've missed that."

He nuzzles into her throat. Her heart thrums beneath the pressure of his hold.

When he's had his fill, he leans back, still resting his hand on her chest, and stares down at her. "Tell me if I hurt you. Or if I do something you don't like."

She reaches up and squeezes one of his fingers. "I promise."

"Good." His eyes darken. "I want to lick you everywhere."

Her breath catches, both at the promise in his words and at the realization that he's as worked up as she is. "I think I'd be all right with that."

His gaze skitters down her body while his fingers flex over her breast. "How much do you like this dress?"

It takes a moment to grasp his meaning. Then she has to swallow against the welling excitement before she can manage, "I don't mind, but Madame Armoire might be upset with you."

"Never mind Henriette," he dismisses, and with another growl—oh, how she's missed his growls—he tucks his fingertips beneath her bodice and tears the dress in two without so much as scratching her. A few more tugs reveal the rest of her and then he fulfills his promise, nosing between her breasts and lapping at her with his wide, pink tongue. She throws her arms around his neck as far as she can and holds on while he explores. His fur glides along her bare skin, soothing and stimulating, bristly around his nose and jaw and silkier over his chest and stomach.

The drag of the Beast's tongue over her nipple makes Belle jump just as pleasantly as when Adam tries it as a human, but his investigation of the hollow under her arm is new.

"That tickles," she laughs, squirming away.

His snort sends a puff of hot air across her shoulder. But he leaves it alone, licking his way down her ribs, over her navel and lower still. As he slides out of reach, Belle loosens her hold and fingers the curls of his horns instead, which she didn't have much opportunity to touch before the spell lifted.

When he parts her legs and takes a deep breath, she experiences a tumult of embarrassment and desire and confusion and fright. With a groan like the ones he makes before digging in to Chef Bouche's most mouthwatering roasts, he dips his head to devour her there, and everything flies out of her brain.

"Oh," she exclaims, almost without realizing it. "That's—"

His tongue is doing things to her she's never read about in any of her books. Her hips tilt helplessly toward him with each swipe.

At some point she realizes she's gripping his horns; she releases them with a breathless apology and pets the dark stripe that runs between his brows and over the top of his head with shaky hands. Adam stares at her as he continues to lick, his eyes as hot as the hand that cups her knee.

"Please," she gasps, not even sure what she's asking for. When he lifts away, teeth gleaming, she whimpers a protest and reaches for him. But the Beast has a different plan.

"Off," he commands, tugging at one of her sleeves, and with a few twists and a shimmy, she extricates herself from the remains of her clothes. He sweeps off his cloak, sending it flying into a dark corner of the room, then tears at his trousers. When he settles over her, huge and heavy, hands beside her shoulders, legs between hers, supporting his own weight so as not to crush her, her heartbeat quickens all over again.

He gazes down at her. "You want this?"

She gazes back. "Yes."

For a moment, she sees Adam's face beneath the Beast's, his expression full of wonder. "You want me inside you, even like this?"

Something about the way he's looking at her brings back the old mischief; she fixes him with a mock stern look and replies, "Hurry up, before I change my mind."

Eyes narrowing, he presses his hips forward.

This part of him, too, is bigger as the Beast. Belle takes a sharp breath.

"I've hurt you," he says immediately, and begins to draw back.

"No." She clutches him closer. "No, it's…" It feels—it's not pain, quite, but she isn't sure what to call it instead where she's straining wide and tight around only the tip of him. It's like their first night again, only this time she's hopelessly slippery and aching for him, and despite his caution, it's clear the Beast—Adam—knows exactly what he wants to do to her. She closes her eyes, trying to ease into it.

When she opens them again, she can't tell whether the concern creasing his face belongs to Adam or the Beast. It doesn't matter. They're both in control of his body. They're both trying so hard to please her. Her heart is full. "Slowly," she says. "Keep going."

All of the Beast's strength, held fiercely in check by Adam. His arms tremble as he nudges into her, a gentle push, a pause as she stretches to accommodate him, a slight retreat just when she thinks she won't be able to take any more, followed by another push. His teeth are bared with the effort, but he continues to rock into her as tenderly as he's stroking her cheek with one finger. He's the Beast, and he's Adam, and he's her prince, and as her body relaxes around him, the sensations all at once coalesce into pleasure.

"Adam," she breathes, and he groans and snaps his hips, driving the rest of the way in.

"Forgive me," he says when he's regained control.

But there's nothing to forgive. "Oh," she moans, blinking up at him. He's not even moving, but the pressure of him inside her makes her muscles clench and release and sends shocks up her spine and into her belly. "It's good."

It's better than good. She feels like she can— "Give me your hand," she asks, already moving to take it in hers as he shifts his weight. She guides him between her legs and watches his eyebrows knit and then rise as she presses the pad of his thumb where she wants it.

Everything tightens again, deliciously. His palm covers her entire hip, bleeding heat into her skin, but his thumb moves slowly and carefully, sending her spiraling higher with each circle. Faint scratch of his claw on her inner thigh. Sound of his breath growing heavier along with hers.

"Like this?" he asks. He adjusts his stance as he checks in with her, only slightly, but it's enough to change the angle where he's pressing into her, and that's all it takes. She lifts into him with a gasp.

"Oh," he says, wonderingly. "You really…"

Belle floats back down to Earth. "Mm," she manages. With a happy stretch and a stroke of her thumb across his fingers, she says, "Let's do it again."

There's that familiar ear-swivel. "More?" Adam asks.

"More," she agrees.

He braces himself on both hands and obliges.

Belle can't do much more than hold on as he pushes in and out of her, slowly at first, then with greater confidence when he confirms that she's not going to break. Her fingers tighten in the fur over his chest as pleasure surges through her. Perhaps noticing the way her body lurches into the bed with each thrust, he wriggles his fingers behind her head to further cushion it. She turns and kisses his palm. She knew, she knew it could be this good.

"You're so beautiful like this," Adam murmurs in the Beast's rich voice. "My Belle. For once at a loss for words."

Elated that he's teasing her again, Belle wants to retort, but she's breathing too hard, and besides, she's about to…

Her head presses down into his hand as she shudders through her second climax of the night.

Adam slows his thrusts to ease her out of it, then rears back onto his haunches, holding her hips motionless as he ruts into her. His breaths have deepened into grunts. Lying limp with her arms askew on the bedspread, Belle watches in fascination as his pupils dilate and his lips draw back.

"Go on," she encourages him, "my half-human, half-Beast husband," and he finishes with a roar.

When his breath steadies, he pulls out with as much care as when he first entered her, then lays her lower half back down on the bed.

They lie on their sides facing each other. She's sticky and aching and tired and it feels wonderful. Adam gives her shoulder a few slow, satisfied licks.

"Thank you," she whispers, placing a hand on his cheek.

His eyes are heavy-lidded. "You're welcome."

She snuggles into his chest. When he wraps an arm around her, it's like being cocooned inside the world's warmest, most comforting pillow.

As she drifts off, she hears a faint, repeated thump. Sleepily, she murmurs, "Is your tail wagging?"

Adam's only answer is a quiet rumble that sounds like a purr.

*

She wakes in the small hours of the night to find Adam, still wearing the Beast's body, watching her.

"It was good, wasn't it," he says quietly.

"It was perfect."

He strokes her hair, which must have fallen free of her ribbon at some point. "Part of me doesn't want to change back."

She bites her lip. Even though the two halves of him have finally clicked together in her mind, part of her doesn't want him to change back, either.

"What you did for me tonight… I'll never forget it," she says, holding his gaze, making sure her words sink in. "But I know, when we first met, how much you wanted to be human again. I wouldn't ask you to live this way forever." She lays her hand over his. "I'm just glad you're not upset with me anymore."

He squints at her. "Upset with you?"

"For being abnormal, for liking you in your Beast form." It comes out more like a question.

"Belle," he says, those thick brows drawing together. "Darling. No. I was angry at myself for not being what you wanted anymore. For not being able to be what you want."

The past few weeks reshape themselves in Belle's head. "Oh." She laughs softly in disbelief. "I had it all backwards."

Adam's expression remains serious. "I've never… said this to anyone," he begins. Wondering what might make him so nervous, she squeezes his hand in encouragement. "There are things…" He searches her gaze. "Things I miss about being like this."

The world shifts again beneath her. All this time, she thought she was alone in struggling not to yearn for the Beast. "Like what?"

"Like… this effortless strength, and how keen my senses are. I feel more alive, somehow."

She nods.

"The way you touch me," he continues. "Always running your hands over my fur."

She reaches out and strokes the dark brown stripe in the middle of his chest, down and up and down again.

His eyes close for a moment. When he opens them, he goes on. "I miss not having to pay so much attention to manners. I could roar when I was angry and romp around in the mud with the dogs when I was happy, and no one thought twice about it." He glances away. "But I know it's not how a prince ought to behave."

A solution begins to present itself to her. She wonders if this is how her father feels when he gets an idea for a new invention. "You know," she says, wondering if it could be so simple, "there are some things you don't need to be the Beast to do."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember when you said something's been different between us since the spell lifted?" He nods. "It's good that you learned to control your temper, but I wonder if"—she tries to phrase it kindly—"if you didn't go too far in the other direction."

His face is like a question mark.

"We used to have a spark when we disagreed. You used to have an energy that's been subdued lately. You don't have to rein in your personality all the time."

"I don't want to scare you away."

She quirks an eyebrow. "I fell in love with you even when you terrorized the servants, fought off a pack of wolves bare-handed and didn't know how to eat porridge or make a request that wasn't a command. I'm not going anywhere. I promise."

"Maybe… I can give it a try," he says.

She smiles at him. Warmth blossoms in her chest when he smiles back. "And your confidence," she continues. "The way you, um." Her cheeks flush. "Handled me tonight? You could do that more."

"I was just following my instincts."

"Well," she says, nudging his legs with her knee, "I hereby encourage you to follow those instincts from now on."

"And if my instincts tell me to do this?" He leans closer to rub his wide, flat nose against hers. His beard tickles between her collarbones. At the same time, he drags a hand over the curve of her backside and down to the sensitive skin behind her knees. She arches into him.

"I'd say they're more on target than your archery skills," she tells him breathlessly.

"Very funny. And if I do this?" In a whirl of fur and muscle, he lifts her onto her hands and knees and drapes himself over her. He's soft across her bare back and arms and hard between her legs.

"I'd say we should have honest conversations more often."

He nuzzles into her hair. She presses her hips back. After that, they stop talking.

*

They don't wake again until the sun is high. The body entangled with hers is once more a man's. Belle isn't as disappointed as she would have expected even a day ago. In fact, she feels more comfortable in Adam's human arms than she has since the spell lifted.

"Good morning," she murmurs as he opens his eyes.

"Mornin'," he replies before giving a jaw-cracking yawn that could rival the Beast's. His breath doesn't smell much better either, she notes with amusement. He winces as he takes in the state of the bed and the torn clothes strewn around the room. "I have some explaining to do for the staff."

"And Mrs. Potts will be upset that we missed breakfast." A sentiment that will be forgotten when she learns that Belle and Adam have reconciled. "But she can wait a little longer. I want to try this."

Belle combs back Adam's tousled hair with her fingers and kisses him. His embrace tightens and his whole body opens into hers. She feels herself respond in turn. Her answer, then, is yes: For all that they've lost the Beast's size and strength, for all that she can't deny she's still attracted to his animal form, last night changed something between them for the better.

Eventually, they break apart. "We couldn't do that with the Beast's mouth," she points out.

His smile seems as bright as the light streaming through the windows.

*

She's relaxing by the fire one evening when Adam joins her in the drawing room.

He kisses the top of her head. "What are you reading?"

"You'd like this one. It's about a prince who gets turned into a frog."

"Does he meet a girl who loves him anyway?"

A misfit dreamer of a girl who was never sure growing up whether she would find true love either. "Stay, and you'll find out."

"I will, but I want to ask you something first." He comes around the chair to sit on the footstool in front of her. The firelight dances in the golden-brown beard he's been growing.

Belle turns the book face-down over her leg. "Yes?"

"This winter will mark one year since the spell broke."

She nods. "Lumière is already planning a celebration, much to Cogsworth's annoyance."

Adam laughs. "Yes, so I've heard." He sobers before continuing. "Now, I know things have been good between us lately. Right?" She nods again. "But I've been thinking. I could ask the witch who recreated the transformation to return for another night. Perhaps my birthday this time. What do you think?"

Another night in the Beast's embrace. Imagination suddenly teeming with possibilities, Belle leans toward her husband. He meets her halfway for a kiss.

"I think I'm the luckiest girl in all the land," she tells him.

"Or maybe I'm the luckiest man," he replies. "Come, tell me how the story ends."

He settles at her feet and rests his head in her lap. She pets his hair as she begins to read aloud.

Adam lets out a contented-sounding breath. The fire crackles. Belle turns the page and thinks about how happily-ever-afters sometimes do come true.