Belle always missed Paris, but there were days she missed it more than others. Like today, when her father called her to sit down and talk.
"My precious daughter," he began (and that couldn't be good), "you know I love you very much, and there is nothing I wouldn't do to make you happy." She nodded, trying to will her hands not to shake. Maurice sighed. "But these are dark times, darling. My inventions don't sell as much nowadays, even when I travel to Paris. If things don't get better, I won't be able to afford said travels, and you know people here don't buy my stuff."
She glanced at his closed fists. He clearly didn't like what he was saying, just like she didn't like to hear it. "Is there anything I can do to help?" She asked, dreading the answer.
"Yes. That is what I called you for. Belle, my dear, you'll have to find either a job or a husband."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Bad news, just as she had expected.
It's not that she didn't want to work; she did, but the whole village saw them as a freak, and she gave up bonding with any of them a long time ago. The only people who gave her any kind of attention were the local priest… and Gaston. "I'll start looking for a job tomorrow morning," she said, opening her eyes. "I'm sure someone out there needs some kind of assistance." Was she saying this to her father or to herself? Who knows.
Maurice nodded and gave her a sad smile before excusing himself out of the living room. They had built their own house upon arriving at the village, meaning they designed it to their best comfort. Marriage would take her out of her house to one that likely wouldn't be as good.
Besides, she'd do everything in her power to avoid Gaston. The man knew nothing about personal space and respect for others—especially women. The other villagers ignored her, but never mistreated her; some even greeted her when passed her way. She'd rather have Gaston treat her coldly than trying to get her like she was another of the many animals he hunted. His entire personality disgusted her. He reminded her of some policemen in Paris, which made sense since he seemed to have fought in a war—how old was he, then? She didn't remember any wars in France from her childhood years.
She sighed. There was no point dwelling on Gaston and the townspeople. She stood up and went to cook dinner, already planning to go to sleep after. Tomorrow promised to be a long day.
She first tried to talk to the baker. She didn't know how to bake, but she knew how to cook; maybe that'd be enough?
As it turned out, no, it wasn't. Or maybe he just found the perfect excuse to dismiss her. Oh well. At least he was polite about it, unlike others. The tavern owner was quick to shove her out of it. Some shop owners barely glanced at her, let alone speak—but the ones who did were not much better. By the end of the day she stopped caring whether someone was polite to her or not. She just wanted a job.
At least Gaston had been out of town that day. The last thing she needed was him following her around. But maybe someone would have given her a job if Gaston was next to her…? (Ha. As if he would even let her look for a job. She knew he wanted her as a beautiful trophy wife. He always let it clear that he wouldn't let her read, work on her inventions or do anything that wasn't housework.)
She went back home exhausted. She had always perceived the village as small, and it was; today, though, she found out it was bigger than she ever realized. "I guess you didn't find anything," she heard her father say from the kitchen. "Come here, Belle. I cooked dinner tonight. Or tried to."
Despite everything, she found herself chuckling. No matter how much he tried, Father was never good at cooking. Thankfully, she had learned one thing or another from her mother, enough to guarantee their survival after she died.
She sighed as she walked to the kitchen. Everything was so much simpler when her mother was around. People loved her father's inventions, whether they were practical or not. Her mother sewed clothes for some nobles, which earned them a lot of money; Belle tried to copy her, to no avail. Even here in the villages, after years of trial and error, she never reached her mother's level of ability.
The next day was no better. She covered all that was left of the village, but word of her attempts at getting a job had already been spread, and people turned her away even before she could speak.
To make things worse, Gaston found her right after she left another shop with empty hands. "I've heard you are looking for work," he told her. She nodded and tried to leave, but he grabbed her arm. "If you married me, you wouldn't have to bother."
"That's exactly why I'm bothering," she snarled. "I still have no intention of marrying you."
He towered over her when he got closer. "All women in this town would marry me without even blinking," he declared. "And yet you refuse me at every attempt."
"Then get one of those other women who want you," she countered, "and leave me alone."
"I told you, I won't settle down for anything less than the most beautiful woman in town, to give me the most beautiful daughters."
Oh, she hated the way he said 'daughters'. "Then you'll die alone and childless," she declared, shook his arm off and ran away.
Problem was, just like there was nobody willing to hire her, no man apart from Gaston was keen on wedding her either. Her time was up, and, if she truly did not find a job soon, she might have to concede to that despicable man.
She did not tell her father about her encounter with Gaston, and only told him she was still jobless. He tried to cheer her up, with no success. At the end of the night, she was left alone in the kitchen, gazing at the moon and praying for a better outcome than the only one that seemed possible at the moment.
Then, she caught sight of a dark tower in the distance. That's it!, she realized. Tomorrow I'll seek work in that castle. No one has heard of human activity over there in years, but perhaps its inhabitants are just reclused. With that idea in mind, she went to bed with a small smile on her face.
She did not tell her father where she was going. She knew he would try to stop her, tell her it wasn't safe, but she knew she had to try. It was either that, or wedding Gaston.
So she bid him good morning, cooked his breakfast and left him to eat as she got out. Taking a route that led her far from the village, she prayed Gaston was not out there hunting as she went up the hill.
The atmosphere got colder as she climbed up—odd, because the hill was not so high, and it was still autumn, not winter. As she entered the dark and dense forest, the wind got chilling, and she regretted not wearing warmer clothes—as if she could have predicted her current situation.
Finally, she found herself before the castle's gate. It was dark, almost as if it was night, but it was probably because of the heavy clouds above the castle—another oddity, but not so much when she faced cold winds to get there. She pushed the gate to find it open, and called for anyone who could be listening as she walked inside.
Then, she got the castle's door, and knocked. Once. Twice. Five times. Just as she turned to leave, accepting defeat, the door opened, revealing a tall, large and hairy… man?
No, it could not be a man. Whoever this creature was, humans did not have fangs. "I'm sorry," she mumbled, unsure if the creature understood her. "I was looking for the castle's owner but—"
"That would be me," the creature snarled. "What do you want?"
Its voice was terrifying, but it spoke her tongue and had been civil enough to ask her about her purpose there. What did she have to lose? "I am looking for a job," she admitted quietly, hanging her head low. "My family is running low on money, and I must provide for myself and my father. Is there any service you are in need of, sir?"
"Look at me," the creature replied. She raised her head to meet his eyes. They looked… human? Not unnatural, at least. "I am in dire need of servants, yes. With everyone afraid of stepping foot in here, I've relied on… unorthodox help to get this castle standing. What are you good at?"
"Cooking," she replied immediately. "Cleaning. My father has a machine that washes clothes faster and easier. I can run errands, buy food—"
"Great. You start tomorrow. You'll be paid every week, and on payment day you can go home. Otherwise, you'll have to sleep here."
It was far from ideal, but still better than marrying Gaston. "Thank you, sir…"
"You may call me Beast. That's what everyone calls me around here."
"Alright, Mr. Beast. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I promise not to disappoint you."
"With the state this castle is in," he mused aloud, "you might be the disappointed one."
She did not tell her father Mr. Beast was an actual beast; instead, she described him as a tall, hairy and grumpy man. "Did you see anyone else inside?" He asked.
"Only in the background," she lied again. "He did answer his own castle's door, Father. I'm afraid he doesn't have many people working for him."
"I just want you to be careful."
"I will. I can take care of myself just fine. And it's better than marrying… some people."
Fully aware of who she meant by 'some people', her father did not say anything more on the matter.
As it turned out, Mr. Beast's other employees were living objects. "I'm terribly sorry," she said to the candlestick bouncing before her, "but what is going on?"
"Oh, the master did not tell you?" The candlestick asked, turning to look at his boss—or rather, master. "Well, it is his story to tell, not ours."
"It… clearly involves you," she protested.
"Pestering your colleagues with questions is not part of your job," Mr. Beast cut her off. "Now follow Lumiére to your room."
The candlestick's name was Lumiére? Was that a joke?
On their way to her room, Lumiére introduced her to other workers: a teapot, Mrs. Potts, and her son Chip, a teacup; Cogsworth, a pendulum clock; Madame de Garderobe, a wardrobe (he opened a random room door to show her); Fifi, a feather duster and, apparently, Lumiére's lover; Sultan, a barking footstool; Cadenza, a piano; Chapeau, a coat racker; and Chef Bouche, a stove.
"Can I really not know what happened here?" She asked Lumiére one more time, when they arrived at her room's door. "You all behave human-like, so clearly—"
The candlestick shakes his head. "The master is your best source of information for this."
"He doesn't seem keen on sharing it with me, though."
"Give him time, Miss Belle. He doesn't warm up easily, but it happens from time to time."
She sighed and thanked him. She didn't really need to know this castle's occupants' history, not really; what she did need was her boss' money. Everything else was secondary.
First rule: do not enter the West Wing.
Second rule: do not ask about Mr. Beast's past unless he is the one to bring the subject up.
Third rule: do not enter Mr. Beast's chambers unless summoned.
Although those rules were harshly delivered by Mr. Beast himself, she reminded herself most jobs would require even more rules to abide to, and those were easy to follow.
Her first days were the hardest, for she had to do years worth of cleaning of places Fifi and her feather duster friends could not reach. Sometimes, she would find out another animate object around the castle when it sneezed upon her touch. She actually caught a cold, which prompted Mr. Beast to grant her sick leave for an entire week. She was afraid that it meant dismissal at first, but he made it clear she was still of use—he just needed her recovered. She would not get paid for her sick days, but she'd go back eventually.
In that case… she could honestly say this job was better than most she would have gotten in the village.
Her father was still wary of Mr. Beast—which she claimed to be his last name—but he warmed up to her boss when she explained why she was back home earlier than planned. Since she stayed the whole week inside her home, Gaston never even found out about her presence, so she was spared of him.
When she returned, it was as if she never had left. She resumed her cleaning duties while helping Chef Bouche with meals. "It's so good to have a real helping hand," he told her multiple times.
Mr. Beast rarely joined his staff on meals—he rarely showed up in her work hours, actually. She did not understand how Lumiére could say he was able to warm up to people if did not interact with them, but assumed asking about it would be against the rules, so she kept her mouth shut.
Until one day, months later, everything changed for both of them.
It began as an ordinary day. She helped Chef Bouche with breakfast, prepared the table for Mr. Beast and cleaned the front gardens. Then, her boss came to her and personally ordered her to buy supplies in the village—nothing unusual, as it often was the only occasion where the two of them exchanged words.
Winter was arriving, slowly, to the town, which meant it had already settled in the castle's hill. Snow covered the entire ground and made it harder for her to walk, but she was growing used to it. However, she did not know about the winter-exclusive dangers of the region—until she heard growls coming from behind her.
Soon she was ambushed by wolves. Not knowing what to do to escape them, she froze. She could hear their heavy breathing as they circled her, as if analyzing whether she was good prey or not. One of them, standing right in front of her, prepared to jump.
And then she heard a roar, followed by a loud thud. The wolves' attention turned to whatever was behind her, and she dared turn her head around to look.
It was Mr. Beast, roaring the wolves and driving them away. However, in their hurry to escape him, some knocked her down and trampled on her. A pawn hit her head, and darkness followed.
She woke up to Mr. Beast's snores. "He stayed by your bedside all night," Madame de Garderobe explained—apparently, she was taken to another room not hers. "I think he felt guilty for sending you alone to the wolves."
"He couldn't have known," she argued, "could he?"
"It is winter," she mused in reply. "But I don't know. I haven't been outside in years."
That was the first piece of information she got about the castle's inhabitants' past.
Over the following days, Mr. Beast shared the rest: how he used to be human, just like her, until an old lady dressed in ragged clothes asked for shelter while he was hosting a party. "I was eleven," he said, "young, arrogant and impressionable. Her appearance made me think of her as a potential thief, so I denied her shelter."
"You were wrong, I take it," she commented.
He nodded. "Suddenly she transformed into a beautiful and well-dressed young woman. I apologized for my mistake and said she could enter, but she said it was too late, that I had failed her test. As punishment, she cursed me to turn into… this," he gestures to his body, "and my servants to… well, you saw them. She erased my guests' memories, as well as the villagers'."
"Is there any way to break this curse?"
He didn't answer that one, and didn't budge. He already told her so much. "It was unfair of her," she said quietly after the silence became unbearable. "You were a child, hosting a party all by yourself. And even if you were in the wrong, your servants should not have paid for it."
"I know," he agreed. "I lost count of how many times I apologized to them, only for them to remind me they watched the whole exchange. They also say it's unfair."
"Because it is," she insisted.
Her injuries left her bedridden for over two weeks, with no way to communicate with her father. "Please," she asked when Mr. Beast visited her, "let me go see him."
"You are not recovered enough," he argued, "and I cannot leave the castle like this. However," he approached, offering his hand—pawn—to her, "I know a way for you to at least see him."
He was right, she realized as she followed him out of the room, she was not fit for even the shortest trip out of the castle. She was still limping, and it hurt to stand for too long. In her fatigue, she did not realize where he was taking her until she stopped recognizing the familiar patterns she was used to walking through.
They were in the West Wing.
She sneezed. Her absence there meant there was a lot of dust, accumulated from years of neglect and inability of the feather dusters' part to clean everything. Still, she stayed silent, focusing on not tripping as he guided her to a solar.
The room seemed to have been completely untouched in over a decade—perhaps since Mr. Beast was cursed. At the center, a pink rose shone from a glass cage, placed on a small table. "It's beautiful," she whispered, "but there are petals missing, aren't there?" Most of them, now that she paid attention. There were only two standing, though they were big enough to make up for the others' absence.
"It's the curse's clock," he explained. "If the last petal falls without me breaking it, we… I'll stay a beast forever, but without my intelligence, and my servants turn into inanimate objects."
"I suppose," he replied, hanging his head low.
"And you die too," she realized. "In a way. If you lose your conscience—" He nodded. "Is there any way I can help you, Mr. Beast?"
"Adam," he whispered, "my name is Adam. And no, Miss Belle. As far as I know, there is nothing you can do to aid me. But that is not why I brought you here." He went to another table and grabbed a hand mirror. "Wish to see your father."
"Look at the mirror and wish for your father."
She obeyed, and suddenly the mirror image was replaced by one of her father. He was pacing around their home, mumbling words of concern. "Is there any way I can send word to him?" She asked. "Look at him, he's going to die of worry!"
He hesitated. "If we go at night, perhaps I can pass by unnoticed."
Later, she'd point out that moment as the one when she fell in love with her boss.
"There actually is a way for you to help him break the curse," Mrs. Potts told her later, when she got ready to leave, "but he fears it won't work if he tells you."
In the dark of the night, everyone was asleep, so Belle and Mr. Beast—Adam, his name is Adam—slipped by unseen until they reached her home. She knocked quietly on the door, and the quick response told her that her father was having sleep troubles. "My dear Belle," he cried, hugging her. "Where have you been all this time?"
She winced at his tight hug and pulled away softly. "A working accident," she said simply, unwilling to go into details. "Mr. Beast rescued me, and I've been recovering ever since. In fact, he was the one to bring me here, for I'm not yet ready to walk or ride long distances on my own. I'm sorry for not warning you, but there was no way to send you a note."
"I see," he replied, although he didn't sound convincing. "May I meet your boss then?" He asked, stepping out of the house. "I'd like to thank the man who saved my daughter's life."
She gulped. "I don't think he—"
But it was too late; her boss had not covered himself enough to not be seen by her father. Maurice jumped upon looking at him. "He is no Mr. Beast," he exclaimed. "He is an actual beast! Belle, what are you doing with this—monster?"
"He's no monster," she argued, voice firm. "He may look like one, but did you just forget what I said? He saved my life, Father—"
"How can I know he did not put you in danger to begin with?" He countered. "I cannot allow you to go back to the castle! You will finish your recovery here, and then we'll find another job for you—or a husband."
"No," she refused. "I will find no one else willing to hire me—"
"Then, my daughter, I'm afraid you'll have to content yourself with having Gaston as a husband."
"I will not! Gaston is the real beast, not Adam!"
"Adam, huh? Do you fancy this monster? Are you in love with him? Is that why—"
"He is no monster—"
"Belle," her boss called her gently. "It is alright, really. If your father does not trust me to be near you… I understand." He turned to her father. "I won't bother your daughter any longer, but she does not deserve to be condemned to a life with a man she clearly despises. I'll come here every two weeks to deliver the same payment I gave her while she worked with me. You'll want for nothing."
Her father wanted to protest. "I don't want your—"
"Yes, you do," she cut him off. "It is more than we'll ever get with any job in the village, and he just promised not to 'bother' me anymore. What else do you want, Father?" She turned to Mr. Beast—Adam. "I'm sorry it came to this. You only wanted to help and—"
"It's alright," he insisted. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Belle. I apologize for any mistakes on my part, and I wish you a happy life." And then, he rode away, leaving her alone with her father and a broken heart.
She should have known her return would not go unnoticed. As soon as she was healed enough to walk again, she stumbled upon Gaston on the streets. "Belle, ma Belle, you were dearly missed!" He exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"None of your business," she replied coldly, turning away from him.
"Oh, but it is," he countered. "If you are back in town, it means you are without a job or a husband. You must accept me then."
"I must not do anything in regards to you," she snapped.
"Why, pray tell? Where do you get money from?"
She froze. Did he know something about her former job? "As I said," she replied, not turning to look at him, "it's none of your business."
He hummed. "I know you were spotted coming out of that castle's forest, and back there again." She inhaled, her back still turned on him. "You bought a huge amount of food and supplies and then disappeared for another week. Am I right, LeFou?"
She had forgotten about Gaston's tiny shadow, but of course, he'd send him to spy on her. "Absolutely right, Gaston!" The little man exclaimed. "And now, even though she's back in town, she claims not to need your money. Interesting!"
"Yeah," Gaston hummed again. "Are you being… maintained by whoever lives in that castle, Belle? Are you its owner's… courtesan?"
He spoke the last word a bit too loud, so everyone heard him. Soon the calls of 'courtesan' were replaced by calls of 'whore'. She ran away back home.
"We are packing tonight and going back to Mr. Beast's home," she announced to her father, "and you will beg for his forgiveness."
"Why should I?"
"If you hadn't forbidden me from doing my job and all but imprisoned me at home, Gaston would not have spread that I'm a luxury whore to the whole village."
That sentence alone was enough argument for her father. At early sunrise, they rode to the castle.
Upon hearing the story of what happened, Mr. Beast—Adam—wanted to to go down to the village and threaten all its citizens, especially Gaston. "It's not worth it," she said repeatedly, until he calmed down.
He was genuinely happy to see her again, which brought hope to her heart that maybe, just maybe, her affections were returned. However, she did not confess until a huge crowd was at the castle's door, with Gaston leading them, demanding that 'the evil lord' return 'his fianceé and future father-in-law'.
By that point, her father had warmed up to Adam, and was worried about the damage Gaston could cause to them all. "We must show up and tell them the truth," he told her.
"Gaston won't let anyone believe me," she lamented. "Not when he convinced everyone we are engaged."
"I thought those people knew you don't like him," Cogsworth said, and she was sure he was frowning.
"The whole town loves him. It would be too easy for him to convince them I fell into his charms." The last part was delivered sarcastically.
Cadenza shouted a suggestion from his place at the corner of the hall. "Tell them the master is your husband and that you love him!"
Adam opposed it at first, but she promptly stood up. "It is a great idea," she told him softly.
"It is too much," he argued. "What if you want to get married for real in the future?"
If I do, it'd be to you. "It won't be to anyone in this forsaken village, anyway. This lie will rid us of them for good. Cadenza is a genius."
So, she walked to the castle's door and opened. "For the last time, Gaston," she shouted, "I don't want to marry you!"
"Are you saying you are this castellan's courtesan, then?" He taunted her.
"No," she replied firmly. "I'm saying I'm his wife, and I love him."
It was if she was a witch performing a spell, for a huge light blinded them all.
"So," she whispered in her husband's ear, during their very much real wedding night, "love was the answer to the curse."
"Yes," he replied. Adam, human Adam, was stupidly handsome. He had feared he'd return to his eleven-year old body when the curse broke, but, for whatever reason, only Chip stopped aging—which ended up with him having a rather old mother, but nobody really cared in the end. "More precisely, someone had to love me beyond my beastly looks."
"Beyond your beastly roar, you mean," she teased. "That voice could give any lady quite a scare."
"I don't remember you being scared when I save you from being eaten by wolves," he countered.
"I was too busy being trampled by them," she argued, "but no, I wasn't scared."
"I'm glad," he admitted, "because I fell in love with you when you listened to my story and believed me."
She kissed his nose. "And I fell for you when you offered to take me home."
He hummed in satisfaction. "I love you, my employee."
"And I love you, my boss… my prince."
He smiled back and kissed her lips. And they lived happily ever after.