Chapter three

Back at the castle, the storm had dampened the mood despite all the party decorations. The ballroom had been decorated with blue and yellow ribbons and the table had been nicely set and enriched with lots of cakes, cookies, and foods of all sort. On the ceiling hung a huge sign which read: "Happy Birthday".

Everything was set. Everyone was ready. Vincent was the only one missing.

Belle stretched her arms and sighed. Finally, it was done. Took a little longer than what she had expected, and even so many details had been left out. Belle stared proudly at her work. She was sure Vincent was going to love it too. Maybe she could read it to him later at night, when they were both tucked in bed listening to the rain outside. The moment was near, she could feel it.

Belle turned to look at the clock. Ten o'clock. Vincent should have been here by now. She piled all the sheets of paper neatly and threaded them together. It wasn't perfect, but it would do. Then she took them into her arms and walked her way to the perfectly decorated ballroom.

Belle gasped when she sure the wonderful ribbons and all the delicious food on the table. Vincent was going to get the surprise of his life.

Then she climbed up the stairs, walked across the hall and entered their bedroom. She decided to leave the book there, seeing she wanted it to be a personal moment, and this was probably the only section in the castle where they had a little more privacy.

As she was about to leave, however, Belle heard familiar voices coming from outside. She opened the door slightly, without making any noise, and leant against it to hear a little better. The voices belonged to Cogsworth and Lumière, and they sounded very serious.

"We cannot keep this away from Belle!" cried Lumière. "She has to know!"

"Hush, hush!" whispered Cogsworth. "Don't talk too loud. Someone might hear you."

The two men began talking in a low voices and Belle tried hard to catch every word.

"Look," said Cogsworth. "We mustn't overreact. This is a delicate situation. The girl is pregnant, we cannot cause her any worries."

"Well, don't you think she will be worried when she does not see the master tomorrow morning?" protested Lumière.

"We do not know what is truly going on, Lumière!" defended Cogsworth. "He could be on his way back!"

"Or he could be facing a pack of wolves somewhere out there," Lumière insisted.

Belle couldn't take it anymore. She had to show herself and get to the bottom of this.

"What's going on?"

"B-B-Belle! Why, have you finished writing your story?" asked Cogsworth, trying to cover the situation.

Belle faced Lumière. "Please, what is the matter? Where is Vincent? Why isn't he here yet?"

"Madame should only be expecting him for tomorrow," said Cogsworth, giving Lumière a worried look.

"Don't worry, chèrie. Everything will be fine," Lumière comforted her.

"You still haven't told me what's going on, Lumière," Belle reminded him.

"Well, I… you see…"

"There is a slight problem, your highness" Cogsworth interrupted. "The master… has disappeared."

"What?" Belle gasped.

"You see, we have received a message from his highness Jean Claude. He informs us that the master has not yet arrived to his castle. He even sent out some of his best guards to search for him, but with no success. And with this storm, I'm afraid that –"

"We must go find him!" said Belle rashly.

"You cannot go out there in your condition!" protested Lumière.

"Well then send the castle guards! Just do anything!" cried Belle.

Cogsworth and Lumière looked at each other. Belle had been so much more emotional than usual lately.

"Very well, madame," said Cogsworth, regaining his posture. "Rest assured. Everything will be taken care of."

Cogsworth ran down the stairs, followed by Lumière. He instantly ordered all the castle guards to search under every rock and stone, in every cave and behind every tree.

Meanwhile, Belle ran up to the West Wing. When she got there she was almost out of breath. She walked onto the balcony and instantly felt the rain against her. She closed her eyes and let breathed out. She could feel him, he was out there. He'd be back for her and the baby. This had to be her certainty. She needed to have hope.

Belle looked down and spotted a few guards talking to each other. The wind was so strong that they battled to remain on both feet. She watched as one of the guards pointed to a dark route, and the rest of the guards automatically followed its direction.

She imagined Vincent out there, in the cold, striving to survive. What if a pack of wolves had gotten to him first? What if…?

Almost suddenly, Belle felt a rush of blood to the head. She placed her hand above her forehead and felt the heat radiate. She felt so dizzy, that even the floor seemed to be moving. In her mind she asked it to stand still, but it just wouldn't stop. Belle placed her other hand on her abdomen and closed her eyes tightly.

"Belle? What are you doing?" cried out a voice coming from behind. "Please, get back inside."

Belle slowly turned around and opened her eyes. It was Mrs. Potts. But it was too late. Belle closed her eyes again and felt her world go black.

Moments later, the rain calmed down and only a small breeze whirled in the air. On the balcony laid Belle, fragile and devastated, as if she were lost in a deep sleep. Mrs. Potts ran to her side and tried to pick Belle up. She couldn't manage it on her own.

"Help!" cried Mrs. Potts. "Somebody, please, help!"

Vincent felt relieved as he watched the storm die out. He was riding the horse, led by one of the servants. The carriage had been left behind, seeing that it had been partially destroyed by the over turn and all had agreed that the journey would be easier without it.

"Hurry! We must be nearly there!" cried Vincent, feeling a small ray of hope in his heart.

As he spoke, one of the servants collapsed onto the ground.

"Master," cried out the castle guard. "Louis cannot take it anymore! We have to stop!"

"No," replied Vincent. He got down from his horse and ran to Louie's side. Then he picked him up into his arms and ordered the other servant to position the horse. Vincent lay Louis on the horse's back and took the reins from the servant.

"The castle is not far from here. We can't give up now," said Vincent, gripping the reins tightly.

As soon as he finished talking, he heard voices coming from not so far away. He narrowed his eyes and watched as the shadow of four men approached them.

One of the guards took a step closer. "Bertrand! We are here!" he yelled, seeming to recognize one of the voices.

Suddenly it became clear. The shadows belonged to the four castle guards that had been summoned to search for Vincent.

"Master!" said Bertrand after he greeted his colleagues. "Thank goodness you are alright! We are not too far away from the castle."

"Then we must hurry! How is Belle?"

"When we left the castle she was not feeling too well, master. I have not heard from her since," admitted the guard.

Vincent felt a lump in his heart. He handed the reins over to the servant next to him and began running.

"Master! What are you going? Wait!" cried Bertrand.

"I'm going home," Vincent yelled back before disappearing behind the trees.

"Belle!" cried Vincent as soon as he barged through the castle doors.

"Oh, master!" Lumière instantly ran to meet him. "Thank God you're all right! We were so worried! Mon dieu, you are soaked to the bone. Let me get you some dry clothes!"

Cogsworth came running down the stairs and soon as he heard Vincent's cry.

"Oh my, this has been quite a night. We're so glad you're safe and sound, master! What are you still doing standing there, Lumière? Go get the master some blankets, dry clothes, something warm to eat and drink… Hurry on now!"

Lumière smirked. "That is just what I about to—"

"No!" Vincent interrupted. "I need to see Belle! Where she is?"

"Madame is upstairs in the room. I'm afraid there was a small problem and—Master? Wait a minute! Don't panic! Don't panic!" Cogsworth called out to Vincent, who stormed up the stairs like a ray of light and made the two servants quickly follow him.

As Vincent opened the door, he saw Belle laid down on the bed and Mrs. Potts sitting by her side with a small, wet cloth above her forehead.

Mrs. Potts instantly moved aside as she saw Vincent come in. He sat on the edge of the bed and delicately touched Belle's soft and humid hair.

"What happened?" he whispered.

"I'm not sure," Mrs. Potts admitted. "She was out on the balcony when I walked in. Seconds later she passed out."

"Will she be all right?"

"Of course, master," said Mrs. Potts with a small smile. "It was probably just a pregnancy symptom. She'll be awake in no time. Don't you worry!"

Vincent smiled back. Then he faced Belle and leaned closer to kiss her forehead. Mrs. Potts slowly left the room and closed the door behind her.

"I was foolish," Vincent whispered to Belle, who remained asleep. "Cogsworth told me about the storm but I told him I'd leave early and arrive beform the storm. I shouldn't have gone. I should have stayed with you."

Vincent held Belle's hand gently and placed it over her belly. Then he laid his hand over hers.

"We were half-way there but I felt the need to turn back," he continued speaking softly. "I know this day is special and I wanted to spend it with… the both of you."

He stroked Belle's cheek smoothly with his hand and stared at her. He could see a small smile on her face, as if she knew that he was there sitting next to her. Vincent smiled back at the thought and turned his face away to look through the window. It had almost stopped raining and slowly a few stars started to appear in the night sky.

"Vinny?" murmured a soft voice.

He instantly turned his head. "Belle?"

Belle slowly opened her eyes and smiled faintly.

"How do you feel?" asked Vincent very concerned.

"Slightly dizzy, but far more relieved now that you're here."

She sat up slowly and threw her arms around him. He hugged her back, loving the sensation of having her in his arms again.

Belle could feel a small tear running down her cheek. "I thought that…"

"Hush," whispered Vincent. "I'm here now. We're together. Everything is fine."

"What happened?"

Vincent wiped the tear off Belle's cheek. He began to tell her the story about the trip, the cave and the storm. She listened closely and leaned closer to kiss him every once in a while to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

After the story had been told, a knock on the door was heard. It was Cogsworth and Lumière.

"Master, madame…" Cogsworth greeted the couple.

"Your presence is required in the ballroom," said Lumière with a small bow.

Vincent stood up and reached out his hand to Belle. She took it gracefully and wrapped her arm in his. They followed Cogsworth and Lumière to the ballroom.

As they got there, a huge cheer was heard and everyone wished Vincent a happy birthday.

Naturally touched by the efforts the servants had gone through to please him, Vincent gave a small speech and thanked them all. Then the music started playing and everyone danced with joy. Mrs. Potts cupcakes were most successful, and the rest of the food was also very delicious.

During the party, Chip ran up to Vincent who had just started taking a rest from dancing with Belle.

"Has Belle given you her present?" asked Chip anxiously.

Vincent chuckled. "Present?" He squeezed Belle's hand mischievously. She instantly blushed.

"Whoops," said Chip, realizing he had just spoiled the surprise. "I'm sorry!"

"It's all right, Chip!" said Belle with a smile. "I was just about to tell him anyway."

Chip jumped with joy. "Don't forget your promise, Belle!"

"I won't," Belle reassured him.

Chip wandered off to fetch another cupcake, leaving Belle and Vincent alone once again.

"…A present?" Vincent repeated. "Belle, I told you not to—"

"Oh, it's just a little something. I've been meaning to do it for quite a while anyway."

Vincent lifted his eyebrow playfully. "Now I'm curious!"

Belle giggled. "Well you'll just have to wait until the party's over."

Vincent looked around. Everyone kept dancing and eating as if he weren't there, so he grabbed Belle's hand and smiled. "Come on, no one will notice we're gone," he said anxiously.

The couple discreetly moved through the crowd and found their way up the stairs, down the hallway and, finally, into their room.

Vincent closed the door behind him and leaned closer to Belle. "Now, about that present…"

Belle giggled. "It's not what you're thinking," she said teasingly, pulling him away.

Then she walked towards the cupboard door and opened it. She reached for the book behind a pile of blankets and picked it up. She handed it over to Vincent shyly. He smiled at her and took the book from her hands as if it were a precious gift. He read the title out loud.

"The Girl andthe Beast," he read slowly. He was silent for a moment and then looked at Belle. "This is… our story?" he asked.

"Yes," Belle answered. "Since the very day I met you."

Vincent sat down on the bed and stared at the book in his hands. "Why not call it Beauty and the Beast?"

Belle blushed. She watched as he ran the cover with his hand and smiled. "This is… wonderful. Now our story can be remembered forever! Although… I hope you weren't too hard on me."

Belle laughed. "You learnt your lesson," she replied playfully.

Vincent chuckled. "Will you… read it to me?"

Belle sat next to him on the bed. Vincent moved over so that she could sit in front of him and lean against his chest. He placed the book on her lap and opened the first page. As Belle began to read, Vincent nibbled her ear.

"Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young girl went into… the woods to look for… her lost… father…"

Belle closed the book and put it aside. "Love, I can't read the book while… you're…"

Vincent turned her around and kissed her smoothly. After a while he deepened the kiss and leaned her back until she was laid out on the bed.

"It's all right," he whispered. "You can read it to me tomorrow."

Belle smiled and pulled him closer to her, starting to unbutton his shirt.

The storm had failed to tear Belle and Vincent apart, and it was now up to the stars to watch them consummate their everlasting love. For once it was if the lights had died out and they were the only two living souls in the world. But as long as they had each other, they had it all.