So Near, Nothing Between Us

Chapter One

Not for the first time since the whole mess had begun, Adam wondered exactly how he had gotten into this position.

Everything had been fine a few months ago. Uncle Vincent had announced he was getting married. Adam had been invited - or rather, given a rather fancy series of boxes to tick indicating any allergies and the option of a plus-one on the RSVP card. He and Agatha had been dating for a little while (well, two months), and in an effort to show his uncle that he had grown out of the party-boy stage which Vincent had tried his best to steer him through, Adam had ticked the box and invited Agatha to the wedding. After he had sent the card off, he had characteristically forgotten about the wedding altogether.

None of this would have been a problem warranting more than a frenzied panic a week before the wedding, if Agatha hadn't broken up with him six weeks after he RSVP'd.

"You need to go outside," his roommate Lumière said after tolerating a week of Adam dragging his feet around their flat. "Get out, enjoy the fresh air?"

Adam glared at Lumière from his position on the sofa, curled inside an old university hoodie and pyjama bottoms. "I really don't want to bump into her. It wasn't an amicable breakup."

"Listen to yourself! 'Amicable breakup' - you dropped out the law course after three weeks and you still talk like you're overseeing divorce proceedings." Lumière chuckled to himself as he made a pot of coffee.

"That was five years ago," Adam scowled. "I was eighteen and stupid -"

"And now you're twenty-three and stupid," Lumière interrupted.

"And now," Adam continued with another glare, "I have successfully graduated, in a field I actually enjoy, so I'd appreciate it if we stopped with the teasing." His voice was sharp and harsh, but five years of friendship had been more than enough time for Adam's friends to realise that although he might bark, he never bit.

Lumière shrugged, going back to the coffee. "So you don't want to see Agatha," he said, reviving the original conversation. "Just avoid her, then! It's not like you to be so hung up on a girl - you were only dating for, what, three and a half months?"

"She can get . . . intense, when she's mad," Adam said. "So it's not so much emotional baggage as self-preservation that's keeping me inside."

"Well, you're going to have to go out if you want to meet Belle in time for lunch," Lumière said. "It's already quarter past 11."

"What?!" Adam suddenly leapt off the sofa, looking at the wall clock. "Oh, crap, I'm going to be so late - why didn't you tell me it was nearly time!" He raced back to his room, hurriedly stripping off his pyjamas and hunting for a shirt and jeans.

"I didn't realise I was your personal pocket watch," Lumière sniffed from the kitchen. "I thought that was Cogsworth's job."

"Leave him out of this, please," Adam said as he dragged a brush through his hair, trying his best to flatten the back. "You say his name more than three times and he just appears. It's uncanny."

"He's our friend, not the ghost of Bloody Mary," Lumière said.

"I don't want to be later than I'm going to be," Adam said, hurriedly tying his laces and grabbing his wallet. "If I see Agatha before I get to Belle, she will kill me, so it was nice knowing you."

"Bye," he said, sipping his coffee as Adam barrelled out the door.

On a normal day it took fifteen minutes for Adam to walk the short distance from his and Lumière's flat to the Costa where he and Belle liked to meet. Today, in the pouring rain and ten minutes late, it took him seven and a half minutes to run there. He pushed the door open, allowing the heat to warm his frozen fingers even as he yanked his scarf away from his neck, his normally pale face bright red from the exertion. He ran a hand through his hair, trying in vain to lift it away from his face so it didn't stick. Still catching his breath, he ordered a latte at the counter as he scanned the shop for Belle. After a minute of looking, he found her settled in the corner of the booth furthest from the door, several stacks of books surrounding her as she typed furiously away at her laptop. A half-full mug of hot chocolate was next to her, and Adam watched as she picked it up and sipped absently.

"Hey," he said, carrying his own mug over and sliding in opposite her. "Sorry I'm late."

"Hi," she said, blinking steadily as she met his gaze. She frowned after a moment, rubbing her temples and pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Ugh, this report is killing me. I've been working on it for three hours now, and I'm still only halfway through my plan."

Adam hummed sympathetically as he blew on his drink. Belle's essay plans were usually a bullet-pointed version of the actual essay, complete with correct referencing. It took a long time to complete the plans, but the actual writing of the essay - or in this case, report - always came easily once she'd gained the professor's approval. He'd seen one of her plans while she was still writing it - a mixture of quotes and paraphrases, colour co-ordinated highlights and bullet points - and had marvelled at her professors making any sense of the plan whatsoever. That said, if Adam had planned out some more of his essays, he would have probably had a better series of grades in his early years, before he got into his stride at university.

"Take a break," he said. "Not just for my sake, but your sanity."

Belle sighed, before saving her work and tidying her laptop and books off the table. She took a long sip of her hot chocolate, and as she closed her eyes Adam could see the tension in her posture relax.

"So," he asked, "I take it I shouldn't ask about the semester?"

Belle shot him a death glare. "Just because you've graduated doesn't mean you get a free pass on being overly smug."

Adam grinned, sipping his coffee. He and Belle were very similar, in that they were more than a little standoffish, could strike the fear of God into somebody by glaring at them, and based their friendship primarily on mutual respect and snark, mixed with at-home movie nights and general griping about academia. "I'm really not being overly smug," he argued. "I still don't have a job in my field, and you've been holding your part-time work at the Tech Institute over my head since you got the place."

"True," Belle shrugged. "It's going alright," she continued. "Probably should have prepared for the third-year jump a bit more, but I'll get through it." She laid the cup down, commanding his attention with her dark eyes. "We missed you at the book club last week. You mentioned you were looking forwards to it, so I thought you'd be there - everything ok?"

"Agatha and I broke up," he said. "I didn't want to run into her and make things awkward."

Belle nodded in understanding. She had gone out with Agatha for a grand total of three dates at the beginning of her freshman year, and while they were friendly enough, nobody in their immediate friend group had forgotten the subsequent weeks of drama Agatha had pulled from the situation. "She didn't make it weird, did she - the fact that we've both dated her?" Belle asked. "It was three dates, two years ago - not exactly Jeremy Kyle material."

"No, she didn't," Adam said. "I just . . . it was alright for the first month, and then we both realised that we couldn't stand each other halfway through the second - and not in a way that could form the basis of a relationship." He shrugged and took another swig of his coffee to try and change the conversation.

"Still, it's a shame you missed the book club," Belle said lightly. "Next month we're looking at Romeo and Juliet." She smirked, sipping at her hot chocolate.

Adam groaned, tipping his head back to properly express his frustration. "No! I am sick to death of that play!"

"Just because you interpret it as horny teens behaving irresponsibly doesn't mean others of us can't have different opinions," Belle said, her grin widening.

"Are we really doing this right now?" he asked, running a hand through his hair. "I thought we promised to never debate Romeo and Juliet again, after Shakes-pocalypse 2015?"

"You're still calling it Shakes-pocalypse?" Belle's eyebrows flew to her hairline. "It was barely a fight - Cogsworth did not need to call the fire department!"

They continued riffing each other throughout their coffee, happily poking at each other's literary tastes within the defined boundaries of their friendship. It had gotten heated and ugly in the past, before Adam had mellowed out and Belle had actually listened to a differing opinion. Now, after three years of camaraderie, they cheerfully poked fun at their respective boundaries with little worries about the casualties. To the outside observer, their barbs seemed cruel; to Belle and Adam, however, they were expressions of platonic affection.

After half an hour's chat and laughter, Belle reluctantly pulled her laptop back up to the table. "I should really get back to work," she said regretfully. "These reports aren't going to write themselves. Sorry again about Agatha."

"That's alright," Adam said. "It's not like we made any plans for . . . the future . . . anyway . . ." As he spoke, his face paled in horror. Belle gave him a puzzled look, flipping her laptop back down again.

"Adam? Are you alright?"

"I can't believe I forgot," he muttered, his eyes somewhere six inches above Belle's head. "I . . . I just completely forgot that I invited her."

"What are you talking about? Did you invite Agatha to something?"

"My uncle's wedding," Adam said, running a hand through his hair. "I ticked the plus-one box, back when we were still together. Except, of course, now we're not."

"Oh," Belle said. "Well, I'm sure it's not that big a deal!" she said, in an attempt to be helpful. "Just call your uncle and say things didn't work out between you, and that he's got an extra place now."

Adam winced. "The last time we spoke, I may have told him that I had finally settled down and was bringing somebody to the wedding. He's been so busy that we haven't spoken since before the breakup - but I - Belle, what do I do?" He dropped his hands, looking plaintively across at her. "I - I really wanted to show him that I've changed from when I was just a party guy. He was there for me, growing up, and he put up with a lot of bullshit from me. And now - I mean, it'll just look like I haven't changed at all - I didn't even tell him her name, he's going to think I made some imaginary girlfriend up to win his respect and then chickened out at the last minute -"

"I could help you out," Belle interrupted.

Adam froze in the middle of his freak-out, and stared Belle straight in the face. She was blushing slightly, but she didn't look like she was making fun of him, or playing a joke. In fact, she seemed completely genuine.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I could be your girlfriend for your uncle's wedding, if you want," she said. "If it's that big a deal, I'll happily be your fake date."

"You - you'd do that?" he asked.

"You didn't go into a lot of detail on your phone call about Agatha, right?"

"I pretty much clarified that she was a girl I met at university, we'd been dating since August, and that it was going well."

"Great!" Belle said. Her dark eyes shimmered, the way they always did when she had a plan. "We just show up to the wedding together, say we started dating in August, and that's it! I mean, we've been friends for years, so it's not like there'll be anything weird about it."

"Belle, I . . . I don't know what to say," Adam stuttered. "You'd really do this? Why?"

"Oh, for the free food," Belle said lightly. "And I also have this really nice dress I've been wanting to wear." She playfully kicked his shin under the table. "Seriously, Adam, it's fine," she said.

"I . . . thank you!" he laughed. He clasped her hand. "The wedding's in a month, is that ok?"

"Absolutely fine," Belle said. "I don't have anything else on." She squeezed his hand once, and then broke away to flip her laptop back up. "Now, I really have to write this up, so . . ."

"Alright," Adam smiled, gathering his things. "I'll see you later." Impulsively, he picked her hand up again and laid a kiss on it. "Until then, darling."

Belle laughed, as he hoped she would, and blew a dramatic kiss in his direction. "Farewell, my love," she replied through a laugh.

Not long after Adam started walking back to the flat, his phone buzzed.

Belle: Not to make things weird, but we should probably at least do a couple (ha!) of couple-y things before the wedding as practice. If we got together in August, that's coming up on three months of dating - what's your position on hand-holding/general pda?

He chuckled, and typed out a reply.

Adam: Not weird. Makes sense, actually - we don't have to make out or anything, but maybe a cheek kiss or two? And you know that I think hand-holding is the bomb.

Belle: There's a charity sale on at Central Library on Friday - want to practice then?

Adam: It's a date :P

In retrospect, maybe that was the moment that things began to get complicated.

A/N: Am I predictable? Yes. Is this going where you think it's going? Also yes.

I was having trouble writing Just A Little Change, focusing too much on the 2017 characters than the 1991 ones, so I decided to roll with it and do a fake-dating fic FOR SCIENCE.

Ages have been shuffled so that Belle, Adam, Agathe (yes, I'm writing it as 'Agatha' in-fic because otherwise my brain refuses to work), Lumière, Plumette, Gaston, etc. are university-age students. Cogsworth's age has yet to be decided.

Man, Uncle Vincent is my absolute favourite 'fanon' character. He shows up just about everywhere and I love it.

Title is from 'Natasha and Anatole', from 'Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812', because that song and 'The Ball' are honestly so Belle/Adam that it hurts, if you remove references to Andrey. (Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes, ohhhhhh your eyes …)

This was written a few weeks ago, and probably won't be updated until the end of my semester, but I wanted it out in the world.

Until next time!