Chapter 9: Aftermath

The next morning, Lumière and Cogsworth woke early and curiously made their way to the parlor. They wondered if Belle had stayed with Beast all through the night. They also hoped their master would be forgiving. After all, that same night he had been rather nasty to them, roaring that they had to leave the room.

Upon entering the parlor, the cheerful bickering between the two objects died down and they gazed around with their mouths open, horrified by what they saw.

Lumière walked between the pieces of debris, stopping for a moment when he saw bandages torn apart, as well as Belle's cloak, hardly a cloak anymore. He gulped, worried about Belle.

"Wh-what on earth happened here?" Cogsworth asked in a frightened voice as he investigated the broken chair. "D-did the master do this?"

Lumière furrowed his brow. "I doubt anyone else did this," he replied darkly.

"B-but Belle! What happened to her?" Cogsworth looked genuinely scared, afraid something horrible had happened.

"I hope she's in better shape than her cloak," Lumière muttered as he lifted pieces of her cloak.

"Did the master do this?" Cogsworth wondered again in a voice of disbelief. "He hasn't lost control like that in years!"

"Well, we are going to find out!" Lumière said decidedly. "We have to look for them. If you investigate the West Wing, I will see if Belle's in her room."

"Right," Cogsworth said, nodding bravely before he suddenly figured out he was the one being sent into the master's territory. "But wait! Why do I have to go to the West Wing?" Cogsworth anxiously wrung his hands.

Lumière rolled his eyes. "Aren't you the one supposed to attend to all the master's needs?"

Cogsworth was about to argue, but realized Lumière was right. He had a duty to do. "I suppose you're right," he sighed. "It's just that he sort of… tried to kill me yesterday." Cogsworth laughed nervously.

"We all feel like killing you some days," Lumière tried to cheer him up.

Cogsworth frowned in an insulted matter. "That doesn't mean that you actually try."

Lumière chuckled shortly, before the mess around him reminded him that it was important he figured out what had gone on that night and he got serious again. "Well, there is no time to waste! Let's hurry!"

Cogsworth nodded and the two servants hurried out of the parlor. Cogsworth went to the West Wing and Lumière to Belle's room, in the other part of the castle.

When Lumière finally arrived at Belle's room, he leaned against the door, listening for any sound within. He startled as he heard loud snoring. He hadn't imagined Belle to be a snoring-type of lady. Quietly opening the door and glancing inside, he discovered that the horribly loud snoring had come from the wardrobe, not from Belle at all.

Lumière hopped closer, as quietly as he could, and jumped on a chair on which Belle had put her red dress. Lumière noticed that the dress had rips in it, but these had been caused by the wolves, not by the master. He turned to look at Belle and saw she was sleeping soundly, too tired to even stir as Lumière tried to draw the attention of the wardrobe.

"Psst! Hello?! Wake up, Madame!" Lumière whispered, but the wardrobe didn't stir either.

Lumière jumped off the chair again and hopped over to the wardrobe, hitting her wood with his candles. "Wake up!"

The wardrobe's snoring stopped and she opened her eyes slowly and looked around disoriented, as though she had never been woken in this matter before.

"Madame!" Lumière whispered as he waved his candles. "Madame, over here!"

The wardrobe looked down and saw Lumière, trying to get her attention. She wondered why he was whispering. She glanced at the bed and saw Belle was sleeping there. As Lumière motioned to her to follow him outside, she nodded and complied.

Lumière pulled the door closed behind them and spoke up. "Madame, I'm sorry for waking you…" He restrained himself from adding 'even though it is well past ten' and coughed instead. "But I need to know under which circumstances Mademoiselle Belle arrived in the room last night."

The wardrobe was a little surprised by the question. "I'm sorry, but I fell asleep well before midnight. I hadn't even expected her to sleep in this room! I assumed she was sleeping in the other room again."

"You did not hear her enter?" Lumière asked to be sure.

The wardrobe nodded. "I did not. Why, you look upset. Is something wrong?"

Lumière shook his head. "Wrong might be an understatement. Do you even know what happened last night?"

Lumière figured from the wardrobe's clueless face that she hadn't even heard of Belle's attempt to escape. Lumière quickly told her how the master had wanted to help her out and how they had had an unpleasant encounter with the wolves. He also told the wardrobe how Belle had been unwilling to leave the master's side when they had moved him to the parlor later on, and this caused the wardrobe to squeal excitedly. Lumière however, didn't look as excited as he continued his story.

"The master got mad at us when he finally woke, which must have been an hour past midnight. Cogsworth and I ran for it and, honestly, I was hoping the private time together would bring them closer together. But I'm afraid we shouldn't have left them alone at all… When Cogsworth and I returned to the parlor, just now, we saw the room was a mess. It looks like the master lost all self-control last night and just… destroyed the entire room. Cogsworth is checking on the master right now and I came to see if mademoiselle Belle was still… alive, really."

The wardrobe gasped, clearly unsettled by the idea Belle had had to witness any of the master's rage. "Do you think she was actually there when he lost it?"

"I do not know!" Lumière answered in a frustrated voice. "I was hoping you could tell me! Maybe you had heard her crying or you could tell me in what spirit she returned to the room… Perhaps she left him on his own and he lost control afterwards. Perhaps she noticed nothing at all! Please, do be careful with what you say to Mademoiselle Belle! The last thing she needs to know is that the master has the ability to wreck entire rooms in a matter of minutes!"

The wardrobe nodded in agreement. "I shall watch my tongue. Do you want me to wake her or just let her sleep?"

"Just let her sleep," Lumière quickly replied. "We do not even know how long she was with the master before she returned to her room. Maybe she only fell asleep a few hours ago. But if you figure out anything about the situation, do tell. I will send Mrs. Potts with some tea, for when she wakes up."

The wardrobe nodded. "Good idea! I will return and make sure I don't fall asleep as I wait for her to wake!"

Lumière rolled his eyes. "Make sure you do not fall asleep again. Your snoring could wake her!"

The wardrobe gasped in an insulted matter. "I snore?!"

Meanwhile, Cogsworth was making his way through the West Wing. He was trembling, unsure what he was going to find. Maybe he shouldn't be overreacting, he tried to reassure himself. Maybe the master wasn't even there!

Bracing himself, he opened the door to the master's room slowly and peeked through the gap. "Good morning, your highness!" he greeted the master quietly and with a shaky voice, even though he didn't know if Beast was even there.

Hearing no reply, Cogsworth was relieved. Perhaps the master wasn't there after all? Perhaps he wasn't angry? Or perhaps he was… Cogsworth froze as he was suddenly struck with the awful possibility of the master being dead.

No, seriously, that would be so… unexpected… But wasn't death always unexpected? He could put nothing past the master, being who he was. Cogsworth had been in a situation much like this once before, long ago, and the silence in the room unsettled him as he relived a particularly bad memory.

As Cogsworth quietly moved across the room, he saw the master was lying in his bed and he felt a rush of gratitude as he noticed the master's chest was moving up and down as he breathed.

Cogsworth crawled onto the table which held the rose and looked at the master. Even as a Beast, he hardly looked dangerous while he slept. Nothing would have betrayed that he'd recently flown into a fit of destructive rage, had Cogsworth and Lumière not stumbled upon the parlor. At the moment he looked utterly peaceful.

Cogsworth waited for hours. It was past noon when the master finally stirred, stretched himself with a loud yawn and opened his eyes. Realizing that the master hadn't spotted him, Cogsworth coughed to make his presence known. Beast turned his head instantly, looking at his head of the household with a blank expression.

"Good morning, master!" Cogsworth greeted him nervously, unable to stop his hands from shaking. "Did you sleep well?"

Beast moaned and turned around in his bed. He could do without Cogsworth's company first thing in the morning. He had just woken up! As he sighed deeply, memories of what had happened the evening and night before slowly returned to him. He moved his injured foot slightly, and winced as a twinge of pain went through it. As he remembered how he had destroyed the parlor and Belle had helped him back to his room, his insecurity grew. Had Cogsworth heard anything? Had Belle told them? Did they know that he had lost control? Deciding not to jump to conclusions, he remained silent. If Cogsworth had anything to say, he would certainly say it.

Cogsworth didn't know what to do when Beast turned his back on him. Perhaps it was best to find out whether the master was still angry with him before he continued the conversation. "Master, I would like to apologize for my actions of last evening," Cogsworth started slowly and uncertainly. "A large part of the blame for the damage you suffered at the mercy of the wolves is my own. I didn't respond quickly enough. I have been eaten up with guilt at the thought that the harm inflicted upon you and Miss Belle could have been prevented if I had ordered the gate to open sooner. I beg you for forgiveness."

Beast remained quiet in his bed, even though he knew Cogsworth awaited a reply. It just seemed to him that any mistake Cogsworth had made was minuscule compared to the mistake he had made himself that night. Cogsworth's error could be easily forgiven when placed in the light against his own aggressive attack on the parlor. In front of Belle, no less. Even if he feared her falling in love with him, nothing could justify the fact that he had lost his temper in front of her.

"Master?" Cogsworth asked after a few moments, afraid that the master had just fallen asleep again. When the master turned around again, Cogsworth jumped a little, but the master didn't seem angry and this relaxed the clock a little.

"Let's not mention it again," Beast replied slowly, his voice still deep with sleep.

Cogsworth nodded eagerly, a little surprised that the master would want to forget it so quickly already. "Agreed, sir!" Cogsworth said gratefully. This was very good indeed!

Beast stared at the rose as he thought deeply. Perhaps it was best if he just told Cogsworth what had happened that night. Somebody was going to need to clean the parlor anyway. He took a deep breath and blurted it out: "I wrecked the parlor last night."

Cogsworth kept quiet for a moment, unsure how to reply. He knew this already. "What happened, sir?" he asked gently, careful to not sound as though he blamed him for it. That would be a sure way to get him angry.

"I…I don't know," Beast replied truthfully, avoiding Cogsworth's gaze. "It just… happened. Before I realized it much…"

Cogsworth nodded patiently, but as Beast kept quiet again, he cleared his throat. He had to know. "Did Miss Belle see?"

"I think so," Beast answered with a little hesitation in his voice.

"You're not sure?!" Cogsworth replied, a little too quickly for his own liking.

Beast sighed. "I yelled at her and told her to leave and she did… And then… I lost it… But… she returned, when it was over... I think she saw. I'm not sure."

Cogsworth was a little surprised. "She returned?" he wondered out loud. "Well that sounds very… kind of her."

"She is very kind…" Beast replied quietly, still avoiding Cogsworth's eyes.

Cogsworth was a little startled by the soft tone in which the master had said this. Did he actually… care for her? He couldn't help a smile.

"What did she say?" Beast suddenly asked and for the first time, he fixed his gaze on his head of household. Inside of him, a voice was scolding him for even wanting to know. He shouldn't allow himself to think about her this much.

Cogsworth was a little taken aback. "I… I don't know, master! I don't even know if she's awake yet. I've been in your room for quite a while, waiting for you to wake up. It's past noon already!"

Beast was a little surprised to hear that. "It is? It must have been really late last night then…"

"I don't know, sir. It was late already when Lumière and I left. How long did you and Belle-"

The door suddenly opened and Lumière came hopping in cheerfully. Cogsworth was a little frustrated that the candlestick would come to interrupt the conversation just as he had been about to find out what exactly had happened the night before. He hadn't even knocked or anything! With his hands impatiently on his side, Cogsworth addressed Lumière. "What is so urgent that you forgot the common courtesy of knocking, Lumière?"

Lumière grinned excitedly as he climbed on the table and merrily patted Cogsworth on the shoulder. "I bring good news!" he announced happily. He turned to the master, who looked confused. "Mademoiselle Belle has asked to see you. She suggested breakfast. Or lunch," Lumière quickly corrected, reminding himself it was a little too late to be having breakfast.

Beast gazed at Lumière with his mouth open. Belle wanted to see him? She wanted to eat something with him? That made no sense. She should have been too terrified to ever speak to him again, after what he had done last night. Shouldn't she be trying to avoid him instead? "Wh-what else did she say?" Beast wondered out loud, staring at Lumière.

Lumière could hardly contain his enormous smile. He had just come from Belle's room and it appeared he had severely overreacted. Belle hadn't been upset at all. So even if the master had lost his temper that night, it appeared to have left no trauma on Belle whatsoever. Lumière was grateful for that. "Well, I did not exactly speak to her myself!" Lumière hastily told the master and Cogsworth, who were both listening intently. "I went into her room earlier this morning, though, and saw she was sleeping as softly as a pretty rose." Lumière sighed romantically as he remembered the beautiful sight, before he quickly continued. "I let her sleep and asked Mrs. Potts to go into her room and wait for her to wake. When she woke, less than an hour ago, Mrs. Potts talked to her a little bit. I was listening by the door, but did not hear much. Mrs. Potts did not talk to her for long though, and when she came out, she told me that Belle had not looked upset at all. In fact, the first thing she had asked was whether you were alright!"

Beast gulped as he heard this. Was she actually this worried about him? He didn't know what to think… What to feel. It warmed his heart to know that somebody actually cared. But Beast felt uneasy that it was Belle. He liked her too much. She was the only one that could possibly do what he dreaded most: break the curse. But… she was also the only person he had ever liked. He didn't know whether to invite her for tea or to send her out of the castle to never return again!

"Mrs. Potts also asked how it had been last night, and Mademoiselle Belle replied that it had been nice."

"Nice?" Beast interrupted Lumière incredulously. Was Belle suffering from brain damage? How could she think of last night as nice?! Okay, perhaps not the entire night had been as disastrous as the moment when he had lost his temper… but nice?! Had she actually enjoyed being with him that much?

"Yes, she said the word nice!" Lumière quickly confirmed. "She also told Mrs. Potts that you had helped her with her bandage and that you had behaved like a true gentleman." Lumière couldn't help but feel overcome with a growing sense of pride. He nearly cried tears of joy. "See, master, I knew you had it in you! Finally the efforts of all those lessons in etiquette are showing! And I had almost given up hope!"

Not only Beast had trouble keeping up, but so did Cogsworth. The clock felt a bit dazzled by all the news and turned to his master. "Perhaps Miss Belle didn't see you lose your temper after all?"

Beast shook his head. "No. She saw. She must have seen." Beast was now starting to wonder if he was the one suffering from brain damage. But how could Belle have said he behaved like a true gentleman? That night she had even said, to his face, that teaching him manners would be a waste of time! How could she speak so kindly of him? "Didn't she say anything about me… getting angry?"

"No, master," Lumière answered honestly. "She only had kind words. And she asked if she could see you. Mrs. Potts went to the kitchen with her, I am sure she is waiting for you there. Let us hurry and we shall help you get dressed!" Lumière eagerly jumped off the table, waiting for the master to get out of bed.

But Beast didn't move. He felt petrified. This was all going too quickly for him. If Belle truly spoke this highly of him, the chance that she was falling in some sort of love with him was increasing too rapidly for Beast's liking. It scared him. How could she feel this way after how he had behaved? He could hardly come face to face with himself, he was so ashamed about what had happened that night. How could she want to see him? "I-I can't," Beast suddenly said.

Cogsworth and Lumière were a little surprised and turned to him in concern. "What is wrong, master?" Cogsworth asked in a tone that mingled worry and despair. He was worried because it sounded like there was a genuine reason for the master's concern, but he was also getting desperate… They had less than a month. Was that even enough time for the two of them to fall in love?

"I can't even get out of bed," Beast quickly said, hoping that the excuse would be good enough to keep more difficult questions out of his way. He wasn't lying either: his leg hurt too much to actually walk on.

Lumière frowned, assuming that the only reason the master was saying this was because he was still not willing to break the curse. "Do not be ridiculous, master!" Lumière said sternly in an aggravated voice. "If you can not get out of bed, how did you get into bed last night? If you could move from the parlor to the West Wing, you can now also move to the kitchen and down with Mademoiselle Belle!"

Beast didn't like Lumière's tone at all. "I'm not being ridiculous! I'm being honest!" Beast shouted in despair. "Belle helped me to my room! Without her you would have found me in the parlor this morning!"

Cogsworth's eyes grew large in fear. "Y-you mean… Miss Belle was in here? Sh-she saw the rose?"

"No!" Beast quickly replied, turning to Cogsworth to reassure him. "No, she didn't come in my room! I didn't let her beyond the door. She didn't see the rose."

Lumière was lost in thought. "Hmmm… Good. A good way to avoid difficult questions… But still… Master, have you yet considered telling her of the curse?"

Beast and Cogsworth both turned to Lumière with large eyes and their jaws dropped.

"What?!" Cogsworth appeared to be outraged by the idea alone. "Have you ever considered the consequences?!"

Lumière shrugged. "What consequences? As far as I know, the Enchantress never mentioned any consequences of telling the truth."

Cogsworth still had his mouth opened in horror. "Well just because she never mentioned consequences, doesn't mean we can just walk up to Miss Belle and say: learn to love our master and he will turn into a handsome prince."

Beast gulped. He didn't like the idea one bit and was glad that Cogsworth was with him on this one. Telling her of the curse was… Well it seemed pitiful. Like he desperately needed her to give him a chance and she would get rewarded if she did. And besides, even if he wanted her to give him a chance, he did not want the curse to break. Somewhere inside, he did long for her to be in his company, but not if that meant that he would have to become a prince – or even worse, a king.

"Why not?" Lumière argued. "It might only speed up her falling in love with him! Does not every girl dream of a charming prince? We cannot wait forever! Time is ticking away! You are a clock, you should know that!"

"There will be no telling!" Beast interrupted the argument threateningly. Even if he was willing to break the curse, he wouldn't want her to fall in love with him out of pity. "Belle will not come into this room and we will not show her the rose and nobody is to mention a word about how we all were before the curse. Consequences or not."

Cogsworth nodded quickly and looked at Lumière viciously. "Well said, master."

Lumière frowned and folded his arms. It was stupid that they wouldn't even consider the advantage of telling Belle the truth. It would make things so much easier.

"As for Belle…" Beast continued slowly, thinking over the best way to deal with her. She still wanted to see him for lunch, but Beast felt like he couldn't. He was nervous. What on earth could he say to her after the way he had behaved? How could he make up for his appalling behavior? He could not comprehend why she would even want to be with him. The confusion angered him a little, but he tried his best to control it. "I can not see her until I am better…" he decided. It would be best for him. He wasn't ready for her. Not while somewhere inside of him, his emotions were unstable and his hopes were torn between pushing her away and drawing her near. "I must stay in my room to heal. A few days, I think. She must not come here. Lumière, I want you to stand guard in front of the door… She knows where my room is now and I fear that she might come to see me whether it's against the rules or not…" Beast had to resist a smile as he remembered her saying last night that she was not a servant and did not always do as told. He had to thank her for giving him the heads up… But he was not letting her in his room. Even if he wanted to see her again, he knew deep down that it was for the best if he didn't. "Cogsworth, I want you to go to the kitchen. Make sure Belle gets everything she needs. And I'm hungry too, prepare something for me as well and have them send it up. Tell Belle I…" Beast frowned, thinking hard about what would be the right thing to tell her. He had no experience around women… no idea what was the best message to give her. He did not want her to dislike him, but he didn't want her to like him too much either. "Tell her I thank her for her efforts of last night and that I wish for her to enjoy her lunch."

Cogsworth nodded eagerly, overjoyed that the master was being so polite.

Beast scratched his neck as he tried to come up with something to balance out those kind words. "Then tell her that I cannot join her until I am fit enough to get out of bed and tell her that I… need to catch up on some sleep. Tell her that…" Beast furrowed his brow in agony, feeling like everything he was saying was too nice, especially if he wanted to keep her at a distance. The truth would be: I want you to come to my room and have lunch with me. Beast shook those thoughts away. No, the truth was a bad idea… But maybe it was okay to be nice, as long as Belle didn't come up to his room. "Well tell her to stay away from my room," Beast blurted out the last bit, unable to be more eloquent.

Lumière chuckled, finding the master's attempt at giving Belle a kind message a little humorous. "How about if Cogsworth tells her that you will send for her once you are fit enough, but that it might still be a few days? One would think she would respect that wish, right?"

Beast quickly nodded. "Good! Yes! Tell her that! That's perfect!" Beast felt relieved. The servants hadn't gotten angry at him for losing his temper and now they weren't even lecturing him or anything of the sort, just because he was trying so hard to be kind to Belle. It wasn't that hard either to act that way. It felt like a small effort to get some peace. And not only that, but Lumière had just found the perfect excuse to keep Belle away from him for a few days. If she believed he would send for her, she would not go up to his room, right? That gave him the time to sort out his feelings and to, perhaps, get over them. "Okay, Lumière, I want you to go and guard my door. Now. I really think Belle would come here… Maybe she is already on her way. So go, now!"

Lumière nodded and headed to the door. He still didn't know if keeping the curse a secret was going to help them much, but for now, things were looking good. Belle had expressed interest in spending time with the master. The master had showed kindness towards the girl. That was more than anyone could have ever hoped for.

When the door closed behind Lumière, Beast turned to Cogsworth again: "Go and find Belle. Tell her… those things I said." Beast felt a little hesitant. He had said awfully nice things. He really didn't want Belle to like him too much, but he didn't want his servants to mutiny upon him all the time either. He had to try it like this. Maybe this was the best way.

Cogsworth smiled warmly. "Right away, sir! Oh, I just have to admit that things haven't looked this brightly in years! I will let you know what Miss Belle has to say in return!" Cogsworth chuckled cheerfully and rushed out of the room, glad that he could be the bearer of kind words for a change.

As his servants had left the room, Beast stared at the rose with his brow furrowed. He had won himself some time. He would not have to face Belle today and most likely not tomorrow either. Hopefully he would be able to avoid her company the day after as well. But her presence in the castle was becoming a problem… especially if she was developing feelings for him. She had to be developing some feelings for him… If she wasn't, then why would she want to see him? Then why would she say he was nice when he wasn't? Was she blinded by love? Beast could remember Lumière telling him, on countless occasions, that love was blind. Perhaps, in Belle's case, her love was so blind that she had already forgotten about his fit of aggression. Was that what it was?

Beast was relieved that he had a few days to think about it… This also meant that he had time to come up with a plan to stop her affections for him… and hopefully also his affections for her.

Belle swung open the large door of the castle and ran outside. The sun was shining, even though it felt like it was getting colder. But Belle didn't feel the coldness of the wind through her new cloak. It was a thick winter cloak, made of exquisite red velour, trimmed with a soft and warm white fur. A bit too warm for the time of year, perhaps, but Belle's new red dress was quite chilly and she welcomed the warmth her cloak had to offer.

Belle hurried over the stone paths through the gardens, keeping her eyes open to spot Philippe. He had to be around somewhere. Chip had told her that he had seen her horse eating some roses in one of the gardens that very morning. He had found it very amusing and kept it to himself until Belle had enquired about Philippe.

Shortly after that, Cogsworth had entered the kitchen and he had explained to Belle that the master was not fit enough to leave his room yet and that he wished for Belle to enjoy her lunch without him. She had done so, but Cogsworth's words had lingered through her mind. Beast had even let Cogsworth thank her on his behalf, for her good care. Those words had warmed her and she found herself unable to stop thinking about Beast.

Soft whinnying betrayed Philippe's position behind one of the large hedges in the gardens. Belle smiled as she ran through one of the openings in the hedge, glad to be reunited with her old friend now that she felt so far from home.

"Philippe," she whispered gratefully as she embraced him, not even noticing how he was still chewing on leaves from the hedge. "It is good to see you…" She patted his mane distractedly, sighing deeply.

Philippe gulped down the last leaves and looked at his kind mistress. She was stroking his hair rather nicely, but she didn't seem to be paying much attention to him. Feeling like he deserved some more effort, Philippe whinnied again and nudged her shoulder.

Belle smiled when she realized that even Philippe had noticed something was on her mind. "Oh Philippe," she whispered kindly as she put her forehead against his. "I don't know if it's a good idea for us to stay here for too long…" She sighed again. "I feel like I'm changing… And I don't even know what the result will be… I can't even be myself…" She shook her head and smiled bitterly. "Lying to the servants, dismissing those things that should frighten me and seeking out that which could harm me… Or rather he who could harm me… I'm so confused!"

Belle closed her eyes firmly and embraced Philippe fiercely, her thoughts in a turmoil. That which sounded horrible in her mind, felt like the right thing to do. She should be trying to keep out of Beast's way, but instead she felt like she had to seek him out. Was she developing an unhealthy obsession? Was she just losing her mind?

But there was kindness in him, too. He had even thanked her!

This was her third day away from home and within her the urge to return grew... and not to go on to Florence, but to return to her father and the safe town of Molyneaux… She felt in need of a place where all was predictable and she was loved, if only by her father and, perhaps, Gaston. She had always dreamt of her very own adventure, but this adventure was too much for her. Captive in the dark castle of an aggressive Beast… With no other company but him and his magical servants… Belle longed for guidance, for the knowledge on how she could get through this. No book had ever described anything like this adventure… Was Beast a demon she had to defeat? Was he the last of a noble kind? Or maybe a prince in disguise?

"I don't know what to do," she whispered softly. "I could stay in my room for an entire month, until I leave again. Then I would be safe, I think. But then there's Beast… He is so misunderstood… by everyone! Even I misunderstood him! But he can be dangerous too! And… and sweet! I can't make heads or tail of him! But I feel like… like he needs me." Belle's eyes met Philippe's, looking for confirmation.

Philippe stared at Belle blankly. What was she talking about?

Belle sighed and took Philippe's reins, realizing that her horse was not going to be able to help her with words of guidance. While she led Philippe to the stables, she let her eyes wander over the vast, abandoned gardens. They were so empty and bare, so lifeless… What a horrible place to dwell in.

Belle looked up at the sky and saw birds flying over, high above them. Winter was slowly approaching and the birds would fly to the other side of the world to avoid the cold. Belle realized sadly that she was nothing like the birds. She had always dreamt of flying, but only days after leaving the nest, she was already longing badly to return. She had misjudged herself. She wasn't up for true adventure. More than anything, she wanted to return home, curl up in her bed with a book and be taken on somebody else's adventure. Not to face Beast and his servants and all their surrounding secrets and mysteries on her own. It could be so dangerous! What had she gotten herself into?

Belle suddenly heard a bird whistling nearby and turned her head to see a little brown sparrow sitting on a large branch that lay on the ground underneath a tree. Belle smiled as she realized that she and Philippe weren't the only ones in the gardens. The sparrow hopped cheerfully over the long, forked branch, whistling a merry tune as it did so. Belle felt drawn to it and released Philippe's rein to step closer. But when she was just a few feet away, the sparrow flapped open its wings and flew away. Belle wasn't too disappointed. It was in the bird's nature to be mistrusting of strangers, and she hadn't even brought the bird any seeds. No wonder it had flew away.

Belle was about to turn around when her attention was drawn by a large forked branch. As her mind was spinning at full speed, she carefully picked up the long branch from the ground. "This is… perfect," she murmured as she inspected the branch. The branch was strong and sturdy and could easily support a human being… Or even a Beast. The forked ending was a little too high for Belle to put in her arm pit, but she imagined that it was just about the right size for Beast.

"Look here, Philippe!" Belle said excitedly as she walked to her horse, showing him the branch. "I could give this to Beast! He could use it as an aid for walking!"

Philippe looked at the branch and whinnied. Did she expect him to eat that or something?

Belle frowned as Philippe whinnied. "Maybe you're right…" she said. "It's just a stupid branch. He is the master of a gigantic castle. Surely there's something in there far more suitable as a walking aid?" Belle looked at Philippe's blank expression and nodded, hesitating a little bit. "True, I don't know either. But better safe than sorry… I mean, if he doesn't want it, he can still throw it out the window or something. Or have someone else throw it out of the window for him. Right?"

Deciding that it would be a nice thing to go and give Beast a little present, even if there was a chance he wouldn't like it much at all – after all, it was just a stupid stick – Belle took Philippe's rein in one hand and held the long branch in her other. "Let's get you to the stables. Maybe I'll be able to make it to Beast's room before dinner!"

It was past four in the afternoon when Belle got back to the castle. She had plenty of time to give Beast his gift before heading to dinner herself. Secretly, she hoped that Beast would be sleeping. If he was, she could just leave the present and get out of the room again. Perhaps she could write him a little note with it, for when he woke up. "Get well soon! Here's a little gift to help you get around a little better… Or in case you don't need it, you could just use it to smack your servants with when they annoy you!"

Belle chuckled. She would not write that on a note. But she did think it was funny.

Upon reaching the stairs that led to the West Wing, Belle heard the sound of a cart rolling nearer and she grasped onto the branch tightly and quickly hid behind one of the stone gargoyles. She kept her eyes and ears open and witnessed how a few moments later, the silver cart rolled by with Cogsworth on top of it. The clock was humming cheerfully. Belle also noticed there were empty dishes on the cart. This probably meant that Beast had finished his lunch, even though it seemed a little late for that. Early dinner, perhaps?

As the sound of the silver cart rolling by died out, Belle emerged from her hiding place and hurried up the stairs to the West Wing. Even with the sun shining brightly outside, this part of the castle was a lot darker and Belle kept her eyes wide open to spot anything unusual as she neared Beast's room.

She froze in her steps when she suddenly imagined she saw the light of a flame behind a small wooden cupboard that lay shattered on the ground, close to the wall with the large door that led to Beast's room. When she heard a naughty chuckle and Babette's giggle, she knew the flame was Lumière's.

"Woo, Lumière! Stop burning me like that unless you want someone to find out we're here!" Belle heard Babette say in a teasing voice.

"Allez, mon chéri! Relax! The master is in his room and Cogsworth is gone. I would say we have a few moments to ourselves…"

Belle hardly dared to breathe as she heard how Lumière was kissing Babette somewhere – even though it seemed a bit absurd to be kissing a feather duster anywhere – and how she returned his attention by affectionate giggles.

"Oh Lumière! After all these years you have not lost your touch!"

"And I never will!" he replied passionately. "Your dazzling smile is still as radiant as the first time we met. It set me on fire then and it only brightens my flame now. Human or not, I am unable to resist you! Surrender to my flames or be consumed by the hungry fire within your own heart…"

Babette swooned. "I surrender!" she replied weakly.

The silence that followed left Belle to assume they were… kissing. If this had been the conversation of two human beings, Belle could have felt very awkward overhearing them. But now, she was just confused. She made sure she passed them by unnoticed and she quietly opened the door.

She hurried through the door and slowly and carefully closed it behind her. Her mind was racing as she thought about Lumière and Babette. Hadn't Lumière said: human or not, I am unable to resist you? What had he meant by that? That it was even natural for magical objects to have human desires? Or that… they had been human once?

Belle brushed her thoughts aside and turned around, facing the large room. Just as in the hall leading up to the room, many things here were destroyed. Belle stepped past broken tables, chairs and cupboards on the ground, and avoided stepping on books that lay damaged on the floor. There were even pieces of glass and ripped curtains among the rest of the junk that covered the room. Belle wondered how anyone would want to live in such a place. Then her attention was drawn by a beautiful light that shone from the other side of the room.

Belle quietly moved closer to the magical rose, until she suddenly noticed that in the bed near it, Beast lay silently, staring at the rose as well. Belle glanced back at the rose and noticed she felt quite mesmerized by it. She could not remember seeing anything as beautiful. The magical light was so peaceful and enchanting, Belle didn't realize immediately that she was staring at it for quite a long time.

Fixing her gaze on Beast again, she noticed he hadn't seen her yet. Her heart pounded a little faster than usual. He wasn't sleeping, after all, and she was curious what he would have to say to her.

She cleared her throat and slowly walked over to him. "Good afternoon, Beast. How are you feeling?" Belle smiled at him warmly as she stopped by his bed and held out the large forked branch. "I brought you a gift!" Looking into his confused eyes, Belle slowed down and embraced the forked branch tighter as she insecurely took a step backward. "Maybe I should have wrapped it? I eh… found it outside and thought you – eh… might need it. Or perhaps you could use it for support, you see, because it's forked?" As his silence endured, Belle couldn't help but turn very red. This had been a bad idea… maybe a good way to embarrass herself, but a bad way to approach Beast.

Beast was startled; Belle had blindsided him. He hadn't noticed her presence in the room until she cleared her throat. She had started talking to him, or babbling really, but Beast had been too surprised to actually remind himself to listen. What on earth had she said to him? Why had she brought that large stick? And why was she blushing like mad?

But most importantly: where on earth was Lumière?! Beast clenched his fists in frustration as he looked at Belle. She wasn't supposed to be here! No, he couldn't let himself get drawn in by her beauty. He had to stop the haze that had appeared in his brain the moment he had noticed her. He had to think clearly. He shouldn't mess around with feelings of love, but ignore them. He could not deal with this now: he was too weak in the aftermath of last night's outburst and the discovery of his own longing feelings.

Belle's blush disappeared and her face turned pale when she saw Beast furrow his brow and look around in anger. He wasn't looking directly at her, but he wasn't looking anywhere near as peaceful as he had when she had entered the room. "I'm sorry!" she quickly apologized, taking a step backwards. "I shouldn't have come. I see you're getting angry again!" Belle gulped, not knowing if it was a wise thing to point that out. Unfortunately, magical castles with Beast-masters didn't come with manuals. "I'll leave you be…"

Beast watched as Belle put the branch against the corner of his bed and hurried away from him. Confusion filled Beast. Yes, she was going away like he had wanted… But she probably thought he was angry with her and he wasn't! It was Lumière that had let him down. And he had let himself down too… He should learn to control his emotions better. Once again she was the one suffering for his own incapacity to deal with his own aggression. "Wait!" He had called it out before he had even considered the consequences of spending more time with her, but somewhere inside he felt unable to just let her walk away like that. She deserved a little more kindness than his angry glares. He should save those for Lumière. Realizing he probably looked and sounded angrier than he should, Beast took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Belle did not need to suffer for his servant's mistakes.

Belle had stopped in the middle of the room and had turned around again, noticing how his temper was slowly fading away. And when he spoke this time, Belle felt relieved to hear his voice wasn't aggressive.

"Why did you bring me this stick?" he suddenly blurted out, curiosity overtaking him. He had to know.

Belle realized he probably hadn't understood much of what she had said earlier and she slowly walked closer again, picking up the branch to show him. "I thought you could use something to aid you in walking around. You can use this for support, see?" Belle handed him the branch and he inspected it. "I thought that, since it's forked, you can easily put it underneath your arm and move around."

Beast nodded, swinging the branch around a little. "Yes," he said absent-mindedly. "Or I could just use it to knock over Lumière!"

Belle chuckled, figuring once again that sometimes, he did think alike.

Beast put the branch down besides the bed and he gave Belle a probing look. She was smiling now and it made him uneasy. Her presence had raised several questions within him. Before she would do or say something which would raise even more issues, he had to get answers. For his own sanity. He could not go on wondering why she was showering him with attention. If her affections were growing, he had to know in time. "Why did you come?"

Belle looked at him in confusion. Wasn't that obvious? "To give you your present and to see how you were doing," Belle replied honestly and matter-of-factly.

Beast nodded. It sounded logical what she said, but she had kept her motives hidden. "Why a present? Do I deserve a present then?"

"Eh… I think so… It's a get-well present… And it's not like it cost me a lot of effort… I admit, it is… rather cheap." Belle said this truthfully… If she hadn't stumbled upon the branch, she wouldn't have considered getting him anything. It had just seemed perfect as a walking aid.

Beast didn't know what to make exactly of her answer and the motive why she had gotten him anything. "So you're saying that I only deserve a cheap present, right?" Beast asked her slowly, looking closely at her face to make sure he would spot her true intentions. If she had gotten him such a cheap present because she didn't think he deserved more, that meant that she didn't think that highly of him after all and they were still in safe territory.

Belle frowned. She couldn't help but get the impression she was being interrogated. What was he fishing for? "I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that… I kind of stumbled upon it and thought it would be nice as a gift."

Oh, good, so she hadn't really been looking for a gift for him: that was good to know… It had been a sort of accidental kindness. She hadn't really planned it: it had been spontaneous. He probably shouldn't worry about it too much… But there was still the matter of her complimenting his behavior to the servants. What had that been all about? He decided to cut to what mattered. "Why did you tell the servants…"

"Hold on!" Belle interrupted him, feeling a little awkward standing around and answering everything he asked. "What's with all these questions?" Belle saw a small stool stand near his bed and walked over to it. "Can't we just - Woah!"

Belle had just sat down on the stool when it toppled over and she fell rather clumsily to the floor, in a heap, tangled in the cloak she was still wearing.

The sight of Belle sprawled on the floor, surprise plastered over her face, was so funny and unexpected that Beast couldn't help laughing. When he saw Belle scowl at him, he gulped and quickly fell quiet, fumbling with his hands in shame. He hadn't really meant to laugh, but it had looked so funny…

Belle got up again and glared at him angrily. Not only had he just laughed at her, he hadn't even asked her if she was alright! "And I'm perfectly fine, thanks for asking," she said sarcastically as she straightened out her cloak before taking it off and covering the broken stool with it. The cloak was much too warm for indoors anyway.

Beast furrowed his brow and looked at her worriedly, missing all sarcasm in her voice as he was too distracted by the revealing of her new, red dress. It was as pretty as the first, if not prettier. Upon realizing he was being quiet for too long, he spoke up. "I didn't ask you anything," he remarked quickly, forcing his gaze to break free from the dress. "But are you sure you're alright? Did you bump your head or something? You're imagining things."

Belle felt like moaning in frustration, but instead she took a deep breath and waited for her anger to pass. When it did, she sighed. "I can't believe you're so daft at times…"

Beast looked at Belle in confusion as she went over to the little table that held the rose and casually leaned against it. "Daft?" he repeated blankly, unfamiliar with the expression. "What does that mean?"

Belle raised an eyebrow as she looked at him. Well, she hadn't expected him to be eloquent, really. But did she seriously have to explain him such a well-known word? Ouch.

Beast suddenly cheered up as he realized something. "It's an insult, isn't it?" If it was, that was good news. He usually hated insults, but if they came from Belle, it was a good thing because that meant she wasn't in love with him. But suddenly Beast was overcome with insecurity as he realized he didn't know the meaning of the word daft. Was it a really bad thing? Did Belle dislike him more than she let on?

"Sort of…" Belle replied cautiously, wondering why on earth Beast had looked so happy to be insulted, if only for just a moment. "And you're fine with that?"

"Yeah, no problem!" Beast quickly replied, deciding that wondering about his daftness would keep him too long from the question he really wanted to ask. He could always ask Cogsworth what the word meant. "But now tell me, are you sure you didn't bump your head or something? Why did you tell the servants last night was nice and I behaved like a true gentleman? Unless you have really low standards, I don't believe either of those descriptions is truthful."

Belle looked at Beast in surprise. She hadn't thought the servants would tell their master all she had said. She slowly made her way over to the corner of Beast's bed and sat down on it, still as far from him as possible, but a bit more comfortable now she was sitting. She felt a little shy and lowered her voice. "Well, you told me yesterday that they were giving you a hard time… about manners and such. I figured that the last thing you needed was a bunch of scolding objects at your bed first thing in the morning after what happened last night, so I… lied. It was easier for me too… They found it a satisfactory answer, apparently, and didn't ask me too many questions… That would have been awkward…"

Beast's jaw had dropped and he stared at Belle absent-mindedly. So she hadn't actually meant he was a true gentleman! She had said it to spare him the scolding. Beast felt very grateful for that. But at the same time, his heart dropped. So she didn't quite think highly of him… But once again, she had been kinder than she should have been. She had spared him some lectures and for that he was grateful. "Thanks!" he said sincerely, smiling in relief. "That's really…" Beast hesitated, trying to brush his own hurt feelings away. He tried to sound as optimistic as he could when he found the right word. "…clever! And it was pleasant to wake up without any scolding! I don't mind that you lied at all!"

Belle smiled awkwardly. His childish enthusiasm towards what she had done kind of unsettled her. The contrast with the Beast that had wrecked the parlor last night was too great. The Beast she saw in front of her now was nothing like that…

Beast decided to focus on the good thing: he had been spared the scolding, thanks to Belle. And there would be no worrying about the curse for a while. If she didn't like him, at least some of his worries could be brushed aside. He relaxed visibly and sighed deeply before he put his hands behind his head, staring at the fabric around the canopy frame.

But then a new worry crossed his mind. Although it seemed for the moment that her feelings for him were in check, which was all to the good… What about his feelings? Against his will, he was liking her more and more. The thought made him panic. How could he control his growing attraction to her? He thought quickly. Maybe if he could get her to act worse to him…

True, he didn't want a mean companion, but if she was a little less kind, he would not likely develop any feelings for her. And then he would be totally safe. No breaking the curse, at all! Now that was a good idea… If he could only urge her to be less kind…"It's not like you have to be nice here!" he tried to convince her. "You act much too kind. In here, you don't have to be polite or anything. You can drop all pretences. Be mean all you want! Be a little nastier!" He was getting more and more enthusiastic about the idea. "You don't have to act nice. I don't mind!"

Belle stared at Beast in utter confusion. Was he crazy? "But I don't want to be nasty!" she replied stubbornly. "I'm not acting! I don't want to be like you say at all… What's wrong with being kind? Can't people be nice by nature? Why would I have to be nasty?! It makes no sense! And it makes no sense why you act the way you do either!"

Beast realized Belle was mad… or perhaps just confused. Beast didn't like it much.

Belle went on: "You're telling me to be nasty and mean, but why can't you just try to be nice instead?"

The anger was fading from her voice – now she sounded quiet and hurt and vulnerable, and Beast was eaten by guilt. Maybe he shouldn't have told her to be nastier. She seemed to hate that idea. But for him to be nice… Deep down inside, part of him wanted to try it, to try to say the right words to her so she'd be happy again… but he found he couldn't. As much as he hated to be in this position, he could not show her too much kindness… even if she was beautiful and Beast longed for her kindness in return.

Belle sighed as she realized something and she folded her arms even firmer against her body, as though she was trying to fight back the shivers down her spine. "Why is it that everywhere I go, everyone always wants to change me?"

Beast gulped at the unexpected bitterness in her voice. He wondered what she was talking about, but realized he knew her too little to even guess at an answer. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.

Belle took a deep, unsteady inhale of air. "It's always like this… Somehow I'm always left to feel like I'm the odd one. I don't get what's so wrong with me…" Tears were streaming down Belle's face now as she stared blankly in front of her.

Beast instantly felt bad when he saw how upset she was and wished he could take back his words. He hated tears. They made him uncomfortable. "Hush… Nothing's wrong with you… I… You don't have to change."

Belle shrugged and turned to him for a moment. "You don't really mean that…" she said darkly. "You're just saying that because you hate to see me cry."

Beast looked at her with his brow furrowed as she turned away from him again and hid her face in her hands. She was right though… He wouldn't have attempted to comfort her if she hadn't cried…He had actually wanted her to be mad at him! But he didn't want to see her like this! Careful not to hurt his own injured foot and tail, he slid to the side of the bed, closer to Belle until he was sitting beside her. Her shoulders shook and betrayed her crying. He touched her shoulder gently, but only for a moment. He withdrew his hand quickly, feeling like he would be unable to ever let go of her soft satin-like skin if he touched it for longer than a second.

Belle froze as she felt Beast touch her, if only in a flash. His hand had let go of her as suddenly as he had put it on her shoulder. She dried her tears and looked up at him. His eyes looked sad and worried, not angry or mean at all. There was remorse in them, Belle saw with wonder.

"I don't like it when people want to change me either," he told her quietly, afraid to unsettle her if he spoke any louder. "Not that it ever makes me cry… I just…" Beast shrugged for a moment, but Belle finished for him.

"…get mad." Belle looked at Beast and saw him nod in return. She turned her head away from him. "Everyone deals with things differently… Not that I never get mad. It's… one of those emotions that are hardest to control. Before you even realize it, you say something hurtful or…" Belle hesitated as she looked at Beast for a moment before focusing on her own hands again. "…you do something hurtful. Even if you don't mean to… It's a vicious emotion." Belle sighed and suddenly turned to Beast with a worried expression on her face. "I'm sorry, I'm probably… just confusing you."

"No," he replied quietly. "No, you're not." Not only did it make sense what she said, but he recognized so much of himself in her words… It was a vicious emotion and it always got the better of him, whether he wanted to or not. No wonder people wanted to change him… But her? "You don't sound dangerous to me though… Why would anyone want to change you?"

"Not because I'm dangerous," Belle said with a small smile, feeling at ease talking to him about this. If anyone would know what it was like to be an outcast, it was him. "In the town where I come from…" Belle hesitated for a moment, but then just honestly blurted it out. "The people think I'm odd."

"Odd?" Beast repeated blankly, figuring that there were many ways to describe Belle, but odd was not one of them. "You?"

Belle nodded quietly. She felt a little relieved that he looked a little surprised. That meant that he hadn't thought of her as odd. Then again, he lived here much like a hermit, not like the villagers in town. Maybe they were both odd. "I know how it feels to be… different…" She glanced at Beast, noticing how closely he was listening and she felt, if only for a moment, connected to him. Afraid to make him uncomfortable, she turned her gaze away from him again and looked at her hands, unsure if she should say this, but still she felt like he would understand. "And I know how lonely that can be…"

Beast just stared at her as the impact of her words left him dazed. If he actually only could, he would embrace her, tell her that he had never met anyone who understood, admit that he would love to spend more time with her, say that they could be different together and that they wouldn't have to be lonely ever again, or that they could be lonely together… but that would all be a little bit too rushed. Instead, he slowly took her hand. His hands were gigantic compared to hers, but he didn't let that hold him back. When she looked at him, Beast felt a bit uneasy, but he plucked together all his courage to tell her anyway. "I am sorry for wanting to change you…" Beast looked at Belle for a moment, but wished he hadn't. Her sad little smile made his stomach do somersaults and he felt slightly nauseous.

"I'm sorry too," Belle said quietly as she looked at Beast's hand holding hers. For this moment, she felt safe again. She was not in the company of a dangerous Beast, but in the company of a kindred soul, someone very much like her. Smiling, she put her other hand on top of his and she quietly confessed. "I thought it was okay for me to want to change you… for me to demand of you to be nice all the time. But… you really don't need to be… Not all the time… Just… once in every while, like you are now."

This relaxed Beast a little. He looked at her hopefully. "So I can just be… myself?"

Belle smiled warmly at him. "Yes. If I can be myself too!"

"Of course!" Beast quickly agreed, shaking her hand and he quickly let go of her, yet his smile remained. "We can both be ourselves!"

"Not worrying about other's opinions," Belle cut in, her sad expression turning happier too as she pressed her hands together excitedly. "No lies. No pretending. No holding back."

"No manners!" Beast grinned, suddenly gulping when he saw Belle's raised eyebrow. "Or maybe just a few…"

Belle laughed, finding it funny how her stern expression had caused him to take back his words so quickly. "No, it's alright," she grinned, excited by the idea. "We can just be who we always wanted to be."

"Not what others want us to be," Beast added, though his expression darkened all of a sudden.

Belle saw his change in mood and her expression sobered for a moment. What was he thinking about? She touched his shoulder softly, just for a moment and this caused him to look at her again. He sighed deeply before he explained.

"I think we forgot something: the servants… If they see me… misbehaving…" Beast blew out some air as he considered the consequences.

"Oh… right…" Belle frowned, realizing that she hadn't been thinking all too clearly either. Their plan could have been exciting to live out, if there had been no others to be concerned about. But with the servants around, Beast would be in for a scolding if he didn't act like a gentleman. "Well, they're not around now, are they?" Belle tried to cheer him up. "If they're around, you should be careful, but there's no need to be when they're not."

Beast nodded weakly. It was better than nothing.

"How about we head downstairs? It won't be too long before dinner!" Belle said cheerfully as she got up from the bed and took her cloak from the stool.

"But my leg…" Beast hesitated. He was still in pain. He didn't know if walking around was a smart idea.

"I'll help you," Belle said kindly, reaching out her hands so he could get up. "Or would you rather sit here and stare at your pretty rose all day?"

Beast gulped. She had mentioned the rose, but… she hadn't asked any questions about it. A good thing too! Perhaps it was best to leave the West Wing, to avoid more conversation about it.

"No, no, of course not!" Beast replied quickly as he took Belle's hands and got up. He felt a little dizzy from getting up so quickly and gratefully took the branch Belle offered him.

Belle smiled when she saw the branch proved to be useful. Beast leaned on it and limped besides Belle as they made their way over to the door. "Dinner, you said?"

Belle nodded with a smile on her face. "Yep."

"I wonder if it's lobster again," Beast joked, causing Belle to laugh.

"For your own sake, I hope it's not. In your current condition…" Belle inspected him from head to toe. "…you'd be going down…"

Beast grinned. "Don't make me hit you with my stick," he warned her as he opened the door. Belle stood quietly behind him and Beast turned to her as his hand held the door open. "After you."

Belle was a little surprised and she bent down a little as she slid underneath his arm that held open the door, smiling at him. "Such a gentleman," she teased. "Be careful not to make a habit out of that, Beast. One day I might not be able to recognize you anymore."

Beast grinned despite himself. But he couldn't help it: he liked her. Even though her comment could very well come true if he wasn't careful… Maybe one day, she would not recognize him. But Beast forbade himself to think like that. Not now. That day would not be today. Surely, dinner with Belle was not going to change him back. And he was longing for some fun. After seven years of loneliness, it was hard to deny himself that.

Author's Note: And the chapters keep on getting longer and longer…

This chapter took longer than usual. I've got plenty of excuses for that. One of those excuses is that I was sick in the first week, causing the writing to be… awkward. It wasn't very well-written and a bit too vague and Trudi, who beta'd this chapter for me, as she did with all the previous ones, noticed it too. So we used the second week to hammer some shape into it. Without her, you'd still be waiting for this chapter so thanks go to Trudi!

Other than that, I have been very distracted today by all the Avatar-related news! Many of you probably don't know Avatar, but I've been hyper and happy with all the Zutara-news that reached me from the New York Comic Con. This is a happy Zutarian! I just want to state that. Lol. Isn't it so that all Beauty and the Beast fans are Zutarians in essence? Doesn't Zuko, being the scar-given banished prince he is, have a lot in common with Beast?

Enough ranting about Avatar! There are fanforums for that! What did you think of the chapter? Review?