In her grief, the thunder and rain pale in comparison to the sharp pain of guilt, of coming too late, realizing too late, the truth.
She opened her mouth to say the words, stopped her self, not knowing if he would hear, not knowing if he would care, and in her hesitation the last petal fell…
"I love you…"
In her moment of pause, a crucial moment passed, and the winds of forgiveness passed warmly by her beloved Beast to shed the servants of the castle of his curse.
Belle sits at his bedside, flipping futilely through the pages of one of the novels piled on the night table at her elbow. So preoccupied was she that it took Mrs. Potts's fleshy hand resting on her shoulder to pull her from her thoughts.
Mrs. Potts repeated her question gently,
"Would you like another tea dear?"
Looking into Mrs. Potts aged, round face; her human face, Belle felt the same sense of bewilderment as she had the first time, hearing that familiar voice coming from such a different being.
"N-no, thank you…Mrs. Potts," She paused a moment, and asked the question she'd been asking continuously for three days.
"When do you suppose he'll be waking up?"
Mrs. Potts sighed softly, and turned to her service trolley to pour the hot liquid and assorted condiments into a cup.
"It could be any time now, Belle; Lumiere and Clocks both said there was a great deal of blood on the balcony, once they managed to get him into the castle…"
Mrs. Potts placed a steaming cup beside Belle, not quite meeting the brunette's eyes. Belle made no comment, remembering all too well, her hysterical efforts to protect her beloved from the two foreign men who had come running towards him. Screaming and clawing at what she had assumed were stragglers from the angry mob Gaston had raked up.
Mrs. Potts pulled a chair from a near-by writing desk and placed it next to Belle, sitting down on it with a flump.
The older women sucked a few loose grains of sugar from her thumb with a smack,
"They are both healing up well too, incase you were curious," Mrs. Potts rolled smiling eyes to Belle, just in time to see a smirk light up the younger women's face, followed quickly by a snort of laughter.
Mrs. Potts gave an inward sigh of relief, Belle had been the picture of grief and remorse since that night, for more than one reason. The older women stole a glance at her master's sleeping face.
"I think his color's coming back, look, he's a deeper shade of golden brown at his temples, don't you think?"
At this both women began to truly laugh, Belle's high, loud guffaw, and Mrs. Potts softer, deeper chortle, mingling into a heart lifting sound of hope and healing in the quiet room.
Once their laughter had dispersed into soft chuckles, Belle picked up one of the many books she had brought from the library, her face now serious but light, she parted the pages to a marked paragraph.
"I really do think he's doing better now," Belle pointed to a loopy scrawl in the margins of the heavy tome. "See, the book says that you can tell the health of the ah-uh…" She faltered at the word the book had used, animal, in description of Beast.
"-Subject?" Mrs. Potts interjected, taking spectacles from her apron pocket, to peer at the tiny print that Belle was referring to."Yes, thank you, it says here that the sheen of the ah..."
Mrs. Potts looked over her the top of her glasses and into Belle's face, and gave the younger women the word she did not want to say, voice neutral, but firm.
Belle winced, and looked away.
"Belle," Mrs. Potts chided softly, "there's no harm in the truth of it, and the rose is done, so as far as we know he'll be a… he'll be like this forever, but—"
"Wait," Belle interrupted "The rose?"
Mrs. Potts took a breath, "The terms of the spell were that he learn to love, and be loved in return, before the last petal fell."
Belle's eyes widened and she turned to look Mrs. Potts in the face. "But I do love him, I did, I—"
The elder women chortled, leaning forward and taking one of Belle's hands between each of her own. "Darling, we know, I doubt you'd have been sitting here in this chair if you didn't."
"But then why—"
Mrs. Potts stood with a groan, stretching her back with a soft pop.
"Because spells are precarious, moody things; why did I continue to age even as a teapot? That's what I'd like to know; before the spell I had a few good years left in me, but now… Well." Mrs. Potts smoothed her dress around her large hips and sighed wistfully. "Chip is the same age he was, at least in body, and I'm thankful for that, can you imagine trying to force an adolescent to bathe? Ugh."
As the mother turned to her trolley and began to push towards the door, her aged ears managed to hear Belle whisper one more question.
"Do you think he'll blame me?"
The older women stopped for a moment, and paused to consider,
"I can't rightly say, poppet, but I do know, that it will mean the world to him that you're even here."
With that last bit Mrs. Potts stepped around her cart and opened the door to the hallway for herself, pulling it after her as she left.
"I'll be back with sandwiches around noon dear."
"Thank You" Belle murmured as she gazed at Beast, her Beast, lost in thought and suddenly something occurred to her.
"Wait!" She twisted around in her seat and cried at the closed door, she quickly got up to follow Mrs. Potts into the hallway.
Belle caught up with the silver-haired women quickly, and asked "What is his name?"
"His name, he was hu- he must have had a true name before he turned into…"
Mrs. Potts froze for a beat, as if recalling something long forgotten, and stored away in the back of her mind.
With one question answered dozens more came rushing into Belle's mind, she burned to know the full extent of what she had done. But they froze in her throat, stuck, unutterable, her mouth seemed to know better than her mind that the answers would only increase her guilt and suffering.
Belle was still, her mind churning, and Mrs. Potts continued to speak.
"But you'd best not call him that Deary, he asked us all not to refer to him by that name…when he changed, it's a matter of family honor you understand. He wouldn't want the shame of a curse on his family's crown."
"Shame?" Belle responded in a stunned voice, injustice steadily grew in her tone as she continued to speak. "Why is he shamed for what some wicked creature cast on him?"
Mrs. Potts looked at a loss for what to say, mouth slightly open and eyes averted, she wasn't quite sure if the story of the prince turning away an old woman into the snow was something Belle was ready to hear.
She opted for a quick exit.
"Let's not talk about all that now, later if you will. I do have to serve tea to the rest of the castle." She turned to bustle away a few yards but then turned quickly back to suggest.
"But let's not mention those questions to him, once he is awake, hm? I believe the trauma of his memories would hinder his recovery…"
Having planted her tiny seed, Mrs. Potts continued down the hall, hoping that Belle would take her warning seriously, and give her time to discuss with Lumiere and Clocks what Belle should know, and what could be glossed over.
After all, they did not know what would happen, if Belle stopped loving their Beast.