The Library- Rated K, for all ages
A/N: I've been meaning to write this one for a while now. It's just Belle's reaction to the gift of the library, and also some background on her family. Remember, it even said in the movie, "...since we came to this poor, provincial town," implying that she didn't always live there. Besides, in the original story we know that they moved to the small town when her father's merchant business went into ruin. Oh, and this fic is in first person. I tried to get it as close to the character of Belle as possible. I did go back to the original fairy tale a little bit, but stuck close to the Disney film in most areas, and pulled in a little of the Broadway musical.
Edit 10-1-2011:: No substantial changes. I just got home from seeing the stage production a little while ago (it's about 11:30pm now), and felt the need to do some editing on this. It's a little cleaner, a little more coherent, and a little less amateurish - or so I hope!
Okay, I've given a lot of preliminary stuff, so here we go. Oh, and you know I don't own anything but my own ideas and my view of the story. Don't hate me.
I watched his broad back as the Beast led me down the long corridors of the enchanted castle and felt only a little of my wariness lingering. For nearly three weeks now, Beast had been on his best behavior; ever since the incident with the wolves. We seemed to have come to an unspoken understanding after yelling at each other. No one had said anything, but I had the feeling no one had ever talked back to the master of the castle before. (With good reason, I had to admit. He was their...employer? Jailer? Master. It wasn't very smart to back-talk the person responsible for your welfare. Especially one with a temper.)
But for nineteen days now, the Beast and I had eaten dinner together every night and we were both trying to get to know one another...even if I was still more or less a captive here. Every day Beast did his best to keep his temper under control and be more of a gentleman when around me. And I was trying to keep my temper and be more understanding of him. After all, if this was an enchanted castle, everyone in it must be part of the enchantment, which includes him. I had no idea what the enchantment was - none of the servants were talking except for the confirmation of my suspicions that I manipulated out of Mr. Cogsworth - but it stood to reason that, given all of the smashed furniture and growling, the Beast was not the one who set the enchantment. He would probably be happier about the situation, and more smug (like Gaston) if he had been.
Still, I couldn't help my nervousness of being alone in his company. Usually Mrs. Potts, or Cogsworth, or Lumiére, or even little Chip was with me when I had to be in the same room with the Beast. I knew he wouldn't hurt me...but some of my apprehension lingered.
He finally stopped in front of a pair of huge doors at the end of the long hall. He reached his intimidating paws out to grasp hold of the door handles and prepared to open them - but hesitated. He turned around to face me with a strange, soft expression on his shaggy face. If I didn't know better- and how much did I really know about the Beast, really - I would have said that he was as nervous as I was.
"Belle," he started, "I have something to show you."
I felt my stomach tighten with apprehension and, yes, a little excitement. He was trusting me. My eyes flashed in surprise.
"But first you have to close your eyes," he continued.
I raised a skeptical eyebrow. What was he up to? I wasn't really worried, but he'd already proven that he could act incredibly immature when he was in a mood.
His face fell, as if he were anticipating rejection. "It's a surprise."
I took a breath and let it sigh out in a near laugh, hopefully letting him know that I wasn't rebuffing him. I closed my eyes dutifully and held out my hands to show that I was in his mercy. Strangely, I found that I trusted him, at least to some extent. I knew that he wasn't going to harm me. If that had been his plan, he wouldn't have gone through so much trouble.
After a moment I felt his long, padded fingers- for lack of a better term- enclose my hands. I was very suddenly, frighteningly reminded of how small I was next to him. My whole hands were wrapped up in just the ends of his paws. The slightly rough pad of his thumbs were cupped in my palms, filling it up entirely. They reminded me of cat paws. And while I didn't believe that he would purposely hurt me, but I realized he may accidentally without even knowing it. He was so large and very powerful. A flash of the room in the West Wing where the Beast obviously lived amongst the wreckage of his bouts of rage (and one ethereal red rose suspended in the air beneath a bell jar) blazed in my memory, and I bit the inside of my cheek to repress a shudder.
In the time it took for me to be frightened and then talk sense into myself, we had crossed into what felt like a large room. There was a coolness to the room that even the fire in a nearby hearth I could smell and hear that told me the room was too big to be well heated now that winter was here. And the room echoed faintly with my footsteps. (Beast, not wearing shoes, was much quieter as he walked.) Beast let go of my hands, stepped back, and I was left floating in the middle of my self-imposed darkness with no idea where I was. It was almost frightening, but a familiar smell filled my nose: leather, pasteboard, glue, ink, old paper, and dust. It was a smell I knew well, and I could feel the fear fading away, replaced by curiosity.
I heard the distinct rasp of curtains being drawn forcefully back an instant before sunlight streamed in and brightened the gloom behind my eyelids. I smiled a bit at the weak warmth that accompanied the light, listening as the Beast moved to yet another window and pulled back the curtains letting even more light flood in.
"May I open them?" I asked when my curiosity finally couldn't be contained.
He paused. "Alright," he murmured distractedly, "alright; now."
I opened my eyes slowly. Obviously he'd worked hard on whatever this big surprise was, and I wanted to give it as much significance as he deserved. And so, little by little, I blearily opened my eyes and was rewarded with the sweetest sight I'd ever seen. Hundreds and hundreds of books.
My mouth dropped wide open for a moment. I couldn't breathe as I took in the largest library I'd ever seen or dreamed of seeing. I had no idea there were this many books in the entire world! I struggled for a moment to find words, and all that came to mind at first was simply, "Oh!"
I started to turn in a circle so that I could see every wall, all of them covered with shelves, taking in the two stories worth of books, complete with winding ladders leading up to the highest shelves. There were couches and comfortable chairs placed next to windows. A huge desk was set up with books and paper and ink and quills. Smaller tables stood at attention - and given the nature of many of the objects I'd already met, that probably wasn't a metaphor - all around the room with one or two more books, or with scraps of paper and fabric ready to be used as bookmarks.
"I can't believe it!" I finally managed to exclaim. "I've never seen so many books in my whole life!"
"You like it?" Beast asked meekly, sidling closer.
I turned and met him in the middle as he stepped toward me, forgetting to be afraid of him. "It's wonderful," I told him honestly.
"It's yours," he said.
I didn't know what to say. This...gift... I had never had anything like it. Gifts of books, yes. But a library? A whole library... This was unbelievable. And, as he kept reminding me when I first arrived, the Beast was master here. He could do what he liked and apparently give away whatever he wanted to. To me. I had a library. He had just given me a library. I now had a library. It was mine. My library.
This time I was the one who reached out and took his hands, once again struck by how the warm, textured pads reminded me of cat paws.
"Oh, thank you so much," I finally managed to exhale. It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough for this. I dimly heard the doors that we had left wide open close, but I was too busy trying to think of a way to tell Beast how very grateful I was for this gift to wonder who was watching.
"Really, you...you don't have to do this," I said, trying to understand this huge gift. "I-I haven't done anything... I don't deserve this."
"Belle..." he started, then hesitated, looking so unsure. "It's a gift. Gift's don't have to be because of anything. They just are." He cleared his throat, beginning to look embarrassed. "Uh, and considering that's it's the first gift I've ever given, I'd be honored if you accepted it. Please?"
I couldn't think of a single thing to say to that, so I just nodded. We stood together, smiling softly. It wasn't the first time that I noticed Beast's eyes were blue - like springtime sky on a perfect day - but now, standing close enough that I could feel the warmth of his body in the chilly room the lone fire could not quite warm, I was struck again. Was it another part of the enchantment that allowed a Beast to walk and talk like a man? I couldn't tell, but I knew that something human blazed out from behind those beautiful eyes. And it sent a new nervousness and fear entirely unrelated to my earlier worries along my nerves when I realized it. I jerked back to myself, withdrawing my hands from his and stepped back. I took a deep breath and let it rattle out self-consciously.
"Well," I said, mostly to say something and fill the potentially awkward silence. "Where do I start?"
I turned a little away from Beast, and wandered toward one of the stairwells that led upwards, glancing to either side to browse the books around me along the way. Thankfully none of them jumped out and demanded I read them, as so many other supposedly inanimate objects were apt to do in the castle. I was almost used to it by now. Almost.
Just as I reached the top of the stairs one of the titles caught my attention and held it. "Thomas More!" I nearly shouted in my excitement, reaching to snatch the book up as if it might run away. "I haven't seen a copy of Utopia since we had to move..." I moved further down the shelf. "Oh! The Tempest by William Shakespeare! And Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. Much Ado About Nothing! I've always loved that one. Ah! Le Morte d'Arthur! Oh, and here's The Faerie Queen, and Canterbury Tales. This is clearly the English section."
I turned to look at him as he made his way up the stairs, grinning widely. He was much larger than I, and he seemed to be having more trouble maneuvering on the narrow iron stairs.
"Do you have any of the older classics? The Odyssey and The Iliad? Oh, and Plato! And Virgil! And Ovid!"
"I, um…" Beast stammered, looking nervously at the books around him.
"It's all right," I laughed. "I'll find them eventually, I'm sure. Come on."
I went on and on down each shelf at eye level picking up book after book after book. My arms were soon full, and I was glad to find the Beast had followed me. "Here, you hold these."
He looked surprised when I thrust my load of books at him. He had only just enough time to bowl his arms so not to drop any before I moved away on my hunt. He kept following, a warm presence at my side as I continued down the row. In moments my arms were full again.
"One more, and then I'll stop, I promise," I turned to face the Beast as I swore, the grin never having left my face.
"You can take as many as you want," he said. "They're yours."
I laughed. "Yes, but I can only read so many at one time," I reminded him.
He smiled back. "That's true."
His bottom fangs were very noticeable when smiled, but strangely, the expression made them look like a boyish overbite, and it made them easier to ignore.
After finding a translation of Beowulf – maybe a little tactless under the circumstances, but I like the story anyway - I took a second staircase back down to the fireplace. The cheerful blaze leapt up to greater height and warmth as I sat on the thick rug before it and deposited my armload on the floor. Candles lit on the mantle and on many of the tables. With an encouraging smile I motioned for Beast to do the same. After all of the books were on the carpet between the two of us I took a look at the pile. There were at least two dozen books.
"Hm. I think I need to see what I absolutely have to read soon, and what I can wait for," I said.
"How about this one?" Beast asked, holding up Le Morte d'Arthur.
"A must read," I proclaimed. "Here, let's put the ones I have to read soon over here," I thumped a spot to my far left, his far right. Then I picked up Canterbury Tales. "And the ones I can wait to read we'll put over here," I said as I placed it on my right, his left.
We went through half of the books, categorizing them, and then we got to Shakespeare. "Um... um... You know what? Shakespeare needs his own pile," I chuckled.
"I can't believe anyone could read just this many books in a life time," Beast said, gazing down at the stacks forming on the floor between our knees as we sat. "It doesn't seem like anyone could get through this."
"Mm, I could," I said. "It may take me a bit, but I'll finish this and then move on to another shelf. I can devour books! I've been this way since I was a little girl."
I caught him staring at me a moment later. I blushed under his scrutiny. "What?"
"I don't know anything about you," he said, looking away. "I just realized that."
"No," I shrugged. "We...uh... got off to a...um...a rough start, let's say. I don't know anything about you, either."
He met my eyes and held them for a long minute. "Tell me about you. What were you like before you came here?"
I couldn't help a little self-deprecating laugh as I looked away from him, into the flames dancing a few feet away. "Before I came here…." I mused, my mind drifting away to the tiny town that had never really felt like home. "I've always been the way I am, more or less. Shorter at one time; but mostly I've always been this way. Bookish. Often told I was too smart for my own good – certainly too intelligent for a mere girl."
It's not right for a woman to read, I heard Gaston repeating. She starts getting ideas…thinking…
He was hardly the first person to have told me so, even before we had moved to that poor provincial town.
Pulling myself away from those thoughts, I looked back at Beast and forced a little smile. "I can tell you about when I first started becoming obsessed with books. How about that?"
I rolled my lips together and thought back. "Hm, let me see. I was six years old when my mother died. I was just being taught how to read when she got sick, so every day I was taken into her room by my governess to show Mamán how well I was doing. I would read her favorite books to her, and then they became my favorite books. The sicker she got, the harder I worked to learn to read so that I could make her proud. And when she passed away I continued to read because it made me feel closer to her. Every time I pick up a book, I imagine seeing her face smiling at me."
Beast was quiet for a long while. I played with the threads of the carpet, picking up invisible lint and pulling on threads.
"You said you had a governess," he said. "Do most common villagers have governesses?"
What a strange question, I thought.
I shook my head. "No. No, my father and I moved to the village when I was almost fifteen. Before that we lived in the city. My father used to be a respectable member of society. He was a merchant who dealt with shipping between France, Morocco, and the French colonies in Africa. He was trying to become a name in trading to the New World. Even back then, though, he seemed to have a different invention under construction in the cellar and attic and any spare room he could find."
I laughed a little, thinking about those days when Papa would come home from the warehouse, eat dinner with his family, and then disappear into one of his rooms to tinker. I often went with him, chattering, carrying a book, to keep him company or just to watch while he worked. I tried not to think about those times too often.
"Unfortunately, he put too much of his stock in one trip to the Americas and we lost nearly everything. If Papa hadn't been so well liked by his creditors we would have been robbed blind and left to starve. My sisters' families tried to help, but their husbands wanted to distance themselves so that our situation wouldn't reflect on them badly."
"You have sisters?" Beast asked with genuine surprise.
I nodded, a real smile starting to grow on my mouth. "Want to know their names?"
Now it was he who looked at me skeptically. "All right."
"My oldest sister is almost seven years older than me," I said with pride. "Her name is Charisma."
Beast laughed out loud, but I wasn't done yet.
"Oh, yes. She was already married by the time Papa's ships were taken by pirates and storms. My next oldest sister's name is Felicity. She's four years older and was engaged at the time, and luckily her fiancé didn't look down on her when she lost her dowry, so he married her anyway."
"Charisma, Felicity, and Belle," the Beast tested the names out, a hint of laughter still in his voice.
"But those are just my sisters," I said. "I have three brothers, as well. Valour, the oldest of us all, went to military school and is now a lieutenant and is steadily working his way up in the ranks, so he can support himself. Honour was becoming a cleric in Paris the last time we heard from him. And Justice, only two years older than I am, ironically has taken up with a troop of traveling performers which has a reputation for picking the pockets of its audiences. Everyone thought that he would go into law."
Beast let out a roaring laugh at that. "My, what a ... charming bunch of names your family has."
"No, no," I shook my head, mock serious. "Mother always said that 'Charming' was to be reserved for princes only; for, by their simply being a price, they must be charming."
Beast's face fell and returned to harsh lines when I mentioned charming princes. He stood as if pulled by strings, not on two legs, but on four. I could hear the strained protest of the fabric of his coat and could make out the sound of popping seams as he stormed to the door.
"Beast!" I called after him, confused. "Beast! What did I say? I'm sorry! Beast!"
Too late. He left one of the big doors ajar when he pushed through. I was left in utter confusion. I thought about simply staying put and letting him sulk and rage on his own. In a moment, I thought better of it. He was acting impossible again, and I had evidence that he broke things when angry. He, like Charisma, was a thrower and a smasher when in a temper.
I followed him - and the trail of frightened servants in his wake - until I just managed to catch him going up the stairs to the West Wing, where I was not allowed.
"Beast!" I shouted. "If you don't stop and talk to me, I'll...I'll follow you up there and-"
I didn't need to think of something to do once I got to his rooms since Beast spun on the stairs and bounded down until he stood, towering, before me. "What!"
"You can't just run off and sulk whenever you've been offended," I said.
"I! Am not! Sulking!"
"And you can't lose your temper and smash things when you're angry," I continued. "It doesn't work that way."
"Who says?" he snarled.
"I say!" I shouted back.
Once again, he seemed surprised that I didn't immediately cow to his bellowing. I gulped. "You can't just run off in a temper. Not everyone is always going to agree with you. And sometimes they say things without thinking and don't realize that they've hurt you. If you don't stay calm and stay put, nothing will ever be made right."
"When I was young," the Beast rumbled, "everyone let me have my way and do whatever I wanted."
I tried to imagine a young Beast. What a hellion he must have been.
"Well, you're not a…" I hesitated over the word "cub" because I didn't honestly know what a young Beast would be called, "a child anymore. You're an adult. And you need to start acting like one. I want to know what I did that made you so angry," I told him. "If I did something, just tell me and I'll try to fix it, or if I said something, I take it back and I won't say it again. We were actually getting along there for a bit, and I was enjoying it. Something happened to ruin it, and I want to know what."
I risked reaching out to place my hand on his arm. "Being someone's friend is about trusting them enough to let them know when something is wrong or when you're not happy. How can we be friends if you won't tell me what's wrong?"
The anger ebbed out of him little by little, leaving him deflated and ashamed. "Nothing; you didn't do anything."
"No, I most definitely did something," I insisted. "Just tell me what it was, and I'll know not to do it again."
"Don't mention princes," he forced out. "Charming or otherwise."
I waited for more, but got nothing. "Is that all?"
I felt a tug on the corners of my mouth. It was such a strange request, but he was obviously upset by it. I raised my hand to hide my mouth, but he must have seen my lips twitch.
"What are you laughing at?" he snarled.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not laughing. And I won't mention princes again. You have my word. Thank you for telling me. I'll see you at dinner tonight?"
He looked like he wanted to pout, a strange expression on such a face as his, but nodded his agreement.
"Until then, Beast," I said with a smile, and turned away. I could tell he was still watching me as I walked down the corridor. I didn't really mind.
POST-A/N: Okay, I don't think I got her voice right. It didn't really seem like Belle, ya know? Even I admit that. If you didn't like it, tell me why. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Arbitrary flames will be lined up in front of a firing squad and shot. Thank you.