Author's Note(s): I do not own Beauty and the Beast or any of the characters mentioned within this story. I also do not own A Tale of Two Cities, as the late Charles Dickens did. As a side note to readers, the era in which the story of Belle and the Beast has never truly been established and, therefore, I have taken some liberty and suggested that A Tale of Two Cities had been published and read for a while now. This is no way should affect the timeline and it makes a good title and a good story for the two to share.
Beauty and the Beast: "A Tale of Two Souls"
There was complete silence except for the occasional crackling and popping of embers in the fireplace. Its warmth spread throughout the room, making the atmosphere somnolent and relaxing. It was early, but darkness had begun to descend as the dead of winter drew nearer. The large armchair standing in the center of the room cast a leering shadow against the back wall and the open frame of the doorway, but none of these things were taken into consideration by the petite, young woman who occupied the seat. She sat so that her legs hung over the side of the chair, elevated by the burgundy armrest. Her back, slightly twisted into a comfortable position, lay against the opposite side so that the armrest's twin supported her slender neck. She had taken her feet out of her shoes, as the room had become quite warm during the day. The elegant, light blue dress that she had chosen of the many given to her for use gathered at various places around her slender waist and legs; the sleek, satiny fabric cascaded like a waterfall over her knees and down to her ankles.
She switched her book from her right hand to her left, as the former had begun to grow numb from being held in midair for a suspended duration of time. Belle did not know quite how long she had been reading by the firelight. Reading allowed her an escape into fiction where she could be free of the daily constraints and bores of her provincial life; although, for the past week, life certainly had neither been dull nor provincial.
As she continued her reading, her brown eyes darting at a rapid pace while her face remained placid, she suddenly became aware of another's presence in the room. The soft rustle and swish of fabric and the light steps of a predator stalking its prey alerted her of whom it was immediately. Anyone else in the castle - all of the loquacious yet benign and trusting servants - would have announced themselves upon stepping into the room, but this newcomer was not a servant at all. One could instantly detect traces of nobility in his posture by simply studying the way he carried himself, aside from the guilty stoop he sometimes adopted. His very stature was commanding, but that was not what terrified those who looked upon him.
His nearness to Belle made her tensely rigid. She kept her eyes fixed on the yellowing pages of her book, but it was quite obvious where her mind was. She could feel the heat of his breath upon the skin of her bare neck and was unaware that her own breathing had quickened to become even with the rapid beating of her heart - it sounded like thunder within her chest. Could he hear it? Was he able to sense the terror that still engulfed her every time he was near?
She waited, knowing that if he possessed the intention of speaking with her, he was trying to put the right words together. For a moment, Belle believed that he was going to take flight and leave as quickly as he had come after silently observing her. She was, however, wrong.
"What are you reading?" inquired the Beast in his gruff, yet subdued, tone from behind Belle.
Her inhalations slowed, but Belle had almost fallen unconscious from a sudden rush and flood of nerves. Relief washed over her. He was not angry with her, though his temper had abated much since the night only three days ago when he had saved her life.
It had been foolish to run away, even if he had been so furious with her that he had roared at Belle to leave. She had known that the forest was filled with wolves, hungry from the scarcity of prey during the colder months of the year. They had quickly overtaken Belle. Philippe, her Clydesdale, had thrown her by rearing. Grabbing a thick, heavy branch that had fallen from a tree, Belle had pivoted to put her back to her horse. She swung at the marauding wolves, trying to fight off the savage creatures as best as she could manage. The situation, however, seemed hopeless when one wolf snapped her weapon in half and then, grasping her cloak in its teeth, had dragged her to the ground and prepared for the kill. When she had thought that her life was over, Belle looked up to see the Beast thundering towards the animals with a ferocious roar. He picked two up and threw them with great force; one collided with a tree and slid to the ground with a yelp of pain while the other merely fell into the snow before shaking it off of his pelt and sprinting back into the fray.
The Beast had crouched low to the ground around Belle, his claws unsheathed and ready for the next attackers as Belle had cowered, unable to help and too frightened to run. The fight had continued until the wolves had given up and had taken flight into the depths of the woods with defeated howls and barks. Belle quickly stood up, ready to mount her horse and continue her way back home until, that is, she saw her protector.
Several long gashes had torn his brown fur, and his chest heaved as his breathing became more labored and painful. He could barely focus his blue eyes when he suddenly toppled over into the snow, unconscious.
Belle's compassion had overwhelmed her, as well as guilt. He would not have been hurt if she had not run away. His frightening her did not matter anymore, although he would need to learn to control his temper if he wished for her to stay at the castle. She quickly moved through the snow over to his massive, fallen body. She had hesitated before placing her hand against his chest. He had still been breathing, but it was shallow. She unfastened her cape and threw it around him, shivering because of the cold. Why had he saved her life when she had run away from him?
How Belle had managed to lift the Beast's body onto her horse she could never recall, but it had been a daunting and strenuous task for a young woman of her size and physical strength.
The journey back to his castle had been difficult, for the snow had become thicker as it came down from the darkened, night sky. Seeing had become a challenge, but they had made it back and the Beast's servants had helped Belle tend his wounds. The Beast had recovered his strength remarkably fast and, ever since, he had become softer, gentler, and almost kinder towards Belle; yet, a repressed fear still clung to her heart.
She shifted her elbow because of a dull pain that had begun to grip it, though she feared that any movement, no matter how small or subtle, would upset his raging temper, which was what affected Belle the most.
Gathering courage to reply was difficult, until she turned her head to catch a glimpse of his face. The inquisitive, almost childlike, expression in his deep, blue eyes struck her. There was no vestige of impatience or anger. The familiarity of his eyes caught her attention the most easily. Where had she seen such eyes before?
Now it was even more difficult to answer, as she was dumbfounded. Belle, however, and being the impetuous, young woman that she was, managed to form a reply.
"A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens."
With the slightest nod of his monstrous head, the Beast timidly heightened himself to see over Belle's shoulder to see the pages of the novel from his crouched position.
Another long silence.
"Is it..." he paused for a moment, "er, good?"
Belle was outwardly surprised at his interest. Where had the tempest of a creature disappeared to so suddenly?
"Yes," she answered, trying to comport herself. "It's very good. It's one of my favorite books."
Upon her response, the Beast shrank back, almost looking ashamed for having been to forward. He swished his tail as he began to shift back into the shadowed part of the room towards the entrance.
Belle was puzzled. For one who had shown such great interest in her reading only moments ago, he had certainly ended their conversation abruptly, though it had not been much of a conversation at all. She pursed her lips, considering an idea.
"Wait," she called softly after him.
His ears pricked upward while rotating to catch the sound of her voice. He stopped as one of his mammoth, clawed paws was leaving the ground. Slowly turning his head back around he watched Belle rise slowly and gracefully from her seat.
Belle softly held the book to her chest. He rose on his hind legs; they bent in an animal-like fashion at the hock, and he assumed his natural position of balancing on his toes and the balls of his feet. His initial posture, however, was stooped, and Belle could not determine whether the reason behind this action was conscious, in that he was being polite by trying to meet her eye-level to the best of his ability, or if he was simply ashamed of himself – Belle had accurately assumed that he often exhibited the latter.
After another silence as Belle searched the Beast's face. He did not look frightening, as he did when his foul temper and wrath was aroused. Rather, Belle was amazed to see that a change had overcome his countenance. He seemed sad.
"Would you like to read it with me?" Belle asked him, briefly stealing a glance down at the cover of the leather-bound book.
Bewilderment overcame his features. "Really?" he questioned, a brightened appearance beginning to spread on his face as his posture became more corrected. "But you are already very far."
"I don't mind," Belle stated quickly, staggered at her own boldness.
The Beat slowly nodded and advanced forward. Belle took a place on the carpet in front of the fireplace and looked up at him in a motion that suggested that he should sit with her. She did not realize that a small smile had replaced her tightly drawn mouth.
He timidly sank to the ground, folding his tail around his legs and supporting his large upper-body with his left paw.
Belle removed her hand from the spot in the novel where she had been holding her place and opened the pages to the very beginning of the story.
"It was the best of times, it was the worse of times," she began to read mellifluously.
Stealing a glance at the Beast, she could almost see a childlike smile growing on his countenance; his eyes were fixed upon the page she had started on. Even if he was her captor, Belle had to admit that it was nice to have company, as she was often lonely in her pursuit of literature. Perhaps he was not as terrifying as she had made him out to be; perhaps there was something there that had not been there before.