Inspired by a P.M. from Cellar Doors wondering how I was. And a review of my other Beauty And The Beast fic, An Ardent Admirer. Here's more, like you asked. The fastest fan-story I've ever written.

Edit 9-7-2010. Much thanks to my reviewers. To penny3: error noted and corrected. Vaya con Dios, one and all.

BROKEN

Gaston lay in the rock-strewn stream bed. The spring melt was only beginning. Shortly it would be a babbling brook. Bur for now there was only a trickle of water.

His body was broken. His skull was fractured. His spine was shattered. His limbs, ribs, and pelvis were shattered.

He shouldn't have drawn the knife for a treacherous stab at the Beast. That was what precipitated the entire sequence of events. But the look of adoration in Belle's eyes was simply too much to tolerate. It stung the hunter's pride. He deserved the best. She was the best in village; the province; perhaps the entire realm. And so was he. By heaven, they deserved each other! It was fated! Living within a league of each other! Why couldn't she see that?

That was why Gaston was compelled to assassinate the Beast. It was galling for a man of his pride and ability. There was no other recourse.

Having taken the last stroke, Gaston should've been content with that. He had thrust the knife up between the creature's ribs. It's heart and lung was punctured. It was a good wound. Many a deer, injured and struggling, had been thus dispatched with the final coup de grĂ¢ce. But he repositioned himself and flipped the blade around for another downward stab between the monster's shoulders. A deceitful backstab. Just to assuage his injured pride.

He had compromised his secure footing on the edge of the castle parapet. And the Beast had flung Its arm back from the shock from the first wound. Gaston was nudged back just enough. He felt himself tilting. He clutched at empty air. And the next thing he knew, he was plummeting into the abyss, shrieking like a frightened coward.

And here he was, sprawled in the trickling stream. Nothing could he move. Not the slightest inch. Not his arms or legs. He could still blink. And lick his lips. And draw breath. That brought fresh. waves of excruciating pain. His lungs were punctured. Just like the Beast. How ironic.

His gaze was unfocused. He could see the mountain peaks against the starry skies. He would've loved to be hunting on such a night. The woods in the dark. It made him feel like one of the predators; the wolves and owls. For that was what he was. Drinking with the carousers in the tavern and rolling with the barmaids on their beds was only his leisure.

The mob of villagers he had assembled were being driven from the castle by the collection of enchanted objects. Furniture skittering about on their legs like great beetles. Mantle clocks wielding cutlasses. Kitchen utensils flinging themselves. Talking teapots spewing scalding water. The attacking peasants being sucker-punched by dresser drawers. Gaston couldn't really blame his little army for losing its nerve. Doubtless they were fleeing the castle at that very moment.

Doubtless the Beast lay dying even now. Even as Gaston himself was. That thought filled him with some sense of satisfaction. What angered him was the thought of the creature dying in Belle's arms. And Gaston perishing in a rocky stream. Not even in the tussle of bed sheets and the welter of his wenches.

Some things had astonished him. Things Gaston had noticed as he went from room to room stalking the Beast. That was how to be an effectual hunter. To look for signs. To think like the prey. The dining table was set as though for a banquet. The ballroom was ablaze with candles. It's beauty had taken his breath away. The thousands of books in the library. Such a thing would've made Belle die of bliss.

And having found It, the Beast did not stir. It was dressed in royal garb, like a Prince. The look of resignation in the Beast's eyes before Gaston had loosed his arrow. The weariness. The heavy sigh. it had sounded heartsick. it's expression was not that of animal caught in a snare. more like a man who had lost a true love.

The cultured tones of the Beast. Gaston was shocked; the Thing actually spoke. And It sounded like an aristocrat. Like a scholar. And It spared his life. It had him by the neck while he begged for mercy. It dangled him over the chasm. His legs hung in empty space. It could have dropped him like a stone. Instead it merely told him, "Get out!" In disgust. In revulsion. As though it were the immaculate gentleman and Gaston were the boorish intruder.

And the look of delight in its eyes when it heard Belle's voice. Like a condemned prisoner given a reprieve. Like a man in ultimate despair finding one he had given up for dead

The way Belle had gazed longingly at it. The way she had given her hand for It to clasp. So tenderly. So affectionately. So ardently.

So plain in retrospect was the state of affairs. The Beast had relinquished It's claim on Belle. Crazy old Maurice was wrong again. Belle had not been a prisoner, except by choice. To free her father. And the Beast had proven an unwilling captor. Like a trapped animal chewing its limb off to be free from a jaw trap, the despicable Creature had given Belle her freedom. Saints alive! Gaston had tried the same gambit! Imprisoning Maurice in Monsieur D'Arque's insane asylum to force Belle's acceptance of his proposal. And the Beast let her go!

The Beast had spared Gaston's life. It loved reading; and dancing. Belle was right. It was not a ravening cannibal. It was noble. Disgustingly, sentimentally, cloying noble. More noble than the village bumpkins; except perhaps the bookseller. Certainly more noble than himself, Gaston, who was always treating LeFou like an abused pack animal and the barmaids like doxies. Was that why Belle loved It?

The gentle sound of the trickle of water in the stream belied the fury in Gaston's heart. To hell with It! To hell with her! Let them have each other!

But as Gaston drew his final agonizing breath...as he heard his own death rattle in his throat...a hint of an unknown emotion glimmered in his heart. Could it have been different? Could have he been more-noble? Could he have died in Belle's arms? Could he have expired in the tender embrace of that most perfect woman? He regretted his pride. That was it. Regret.

As his eyes glassed over and his final breath was expelled, Gaston's lips moved soundlessly, mouthing a single name over and over. Belle...Belle.