"Belle, it's me." He took a step forward, and Belle, in dumb disbelief could only stare at him, this handsome stranger who only moments ago, had been the beast. Tentatively, she raised a hand towards him. His titian hair was soft, like the beast's. His eyes were round, blue and familiar. They reminded her of the eyes she had seen in a torn painting once in the West Wing. No, she realized, they reminded her of the beast's.

Her face lit up as she suddenly made the connection. "It is you!" she cried.

The beast, now a man, placed his hand against Belle's cheek. There would be a time for stories and explanations, but it wasn't now. There was something he wanted to do first, something he had been longing to do for weeks but could never do while he was a beast.

There in the rain, he and Belle kissed.

The days following the celebration ball passed by in a confusing haze for the prince. Now that the other kingdoms had found out where he had been hiding, there was a never ending line of French lords and noblemen coming to the castle, wanting to speak with him, wanting to know what had happened in the ten years he had been absent and wanting to know why the prince and his servants hadn't come back into society until now.

Cogsworth and Lumiere were both exceptional in making up a cover-story for their guests, explaining that the prince had decided to travel abroad in that time, but the prince knew he could not hide from everyone forever. He was royalty and whether he liked it or not, he had a kingdom to rule. So, when he wasn't being tailored for new clothes, or answering letters from other kingdoms (which now arrived quite frequently), he was getting a crash course on being a prince from Cogsworth, a tedious task that involved learning both French etiquette, and politics. He had a name now too, Adam. It was a name he hadn't gone by in ten years, but still, it was his, and now that he was a human again, he had to use it.

In all the chaos that was the prince's new life, Adam found he had less and less time to see Belle. They didn't even have time to eat together anymore, since he was so busy with his royal duties. Still, now that he was a human again, and now that his life was coming back at him so quickly, he knew it was only fair that he tell her everything. So one day, after completing another exhausting tutoring session with Cogsworth, he visited her in her room and told her his story from start to finish; how he was a prince, how his parents had both died when he was a child, how his spoiled and selfish nature had caused an enchantress to turn him into a beast, and how, after ten years of solitude, Belle's love for him had managed to change him back. Belle didn't interrupt or ask questions the entire time. Both of them understood that Adam hadn't wanted to share those things with her while he was the beast.

"I know things are really strange right now," he finished. "But I promise, it won't always be this way. Once Cogsworth and I have sorted out all the...mess, and convinced the aristocrats that I am really here to stay, we should be able to spend much more time together. It won't exactly be like it was before the enchantment, but...,"

Belle smiled. "You can take as long as you need, Adam," She said, putting a particular flourish on his new name. "Besides, you're not the only one in this castle who's been busy. Angelique has needed a lot of hands to help with the castle redecorating."

Adam raised an eyebrow. "She's not working you too hard, is she?" he asked.

"Of course not!" Belle insisted. "It's really quite enjoyable. Even Chip and Sultan come in to help from time to time."

Adam tried to picture Chip and his dog decorating the castle, and found he could not, at least not without disastrous results. "Well if you ever needed to talk to someone," he said, as he moved closer to Belle, "I'll try to be here."

Belle blushed. Try as she may, she could never really get over how handsome her beast -prince, looked. "Thank you," she managed to say with a slight stutter.

The smile on her face was the most beautiful thing Adam had ever seen. Without really thinking, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. It was a long, passionate kiss and it made Adam wish he had known what it felt like to be a human sooner.

A sudden knock on the door broke Belle and Adam from their embrace.

"Come in," Belle said tentatively. The door opened, to reveal a flustered-looking Cogsworth. Even as a human, he still had the same waddle in his step that he had had when he was clock.

"Oh, there you are your grace!" he said as he caught sight of the prince. "Lumiere and I have been looking everywhere for you. There is something urgent that we must discuss with you, right this instant!"

Adam grimaced. "Can't it wait?" he asked.

"I'm afraid not sire," said Cogsworth. "This news is of vital importance to maintaining your position as prince. You must come at once."

"But -,"

"Go with Cogsworth, Adam," Belle said as she placed a hand on his shoulder. "I was going to go downstairs to see my father anyway."

Adam sighed. "Very well," he said to his majordomo. "But this better be urgent."

"A marriage? Where does it say that?"

Cogsworth hastily flipped through the parchment on his desk as he spoke. "Why it's practically the law your highness!" he said. "All princes in your lineage must be married by their twenty-first birthday. Now, your parents originally put you down to marry to a princess from Brittany, but due to circumstances beyond our control, and the fact that you cut off all the communication with the other kingdoms during the enchantment, she has since married a prince from another province, which leaves us with the challenge of finding you a new bride!"

"Well that shouldn't be too difficult," Lumiere said coyly from where he was standing behind the prince. "Why not have the master marry the woman he already loves?"

"Belle?" Adam looked at his maitre d' in disbelief.

"Who else?" Lumiere said triumphantly. "She's smart and kind and beautiful, she will make a fine princess!"

"Exactly what I was thinking, Lumiere," said Cogsworth. He scribbled something down on to the parchment as he spoke. "And what's more, we can have the wedding right here in the castle! We'll just set aside a day for the master to propose to the girl, and then -,"

"No!" Adam shouted. The exclamation came out louder than he intended, and both Lumiere and Cogsworth turned to look at him in alarm

Adam, realizing his mistake, collapsed into the armchair chair in front of him. "I'm sorry," he said in a softer voice. "I just...I can't ask her to do this for me."

"But master," Lumiere said in surprise. "Belle loves you! You know that already."

"I do. But this is different. I can't ask her to marry me just because some law says I have to marry someone by my twenty-first birthday. She deserves a better reason to be proposed to than that."

"Then by all means, you must tell her monsieur," said Lumiere. "Tell her the way she makes you feel. How beautiful she looks. You both love each other, so a marriage should only be the next step."

"I know, but -,"

"Also consider your grace," Cogsworth added, "You've been gone for ten years. The nobles are getting suspicious. The least you can do to assure the people of your direction is to marry someone, as is tradition."

"I understand, Cogsworth," said Adam. "But does it have to happen so soon?"

"Yes, or else there will be many, and I mean many complications!" said Cogsworth. "More than you have on your plate already. I say you propose to her now, and quickly, before it's too late."

Adam sighed. "Fine," he said. "Just...just give me a few days to think about it."

And then without a word, he got up from the chair and left the room.

DeviantArt cover image credit: ADAM AND BELLA by ~FERNL.