"A rose?" the Prince was sneering at the old woman at the door. "I don't want a rose! Go away, you wretched old hag!"
Gaston didn't see what the fuss was about. So far he had sat through – well, stood through, because there was only one chair in the room and the prince had been sitting in it – about fifteen minutes of this guy's Christmas celebrations, and nothing remotely interesting had happened. This was supposed to teach him what? All he was getting from the entertainment so far was that if he wanted to be someone else – which of course he didn't, because it wouldn't make any sense to want to be anyone other than the greatest hunter in the whole world – he might want to be that prince. It would have meant taking some serious losses in the looks, charm and muscle departments, and he doubted the prince's skill with a gun was up to much, but he had to admit he liked his style. That was the way to do it, the way he held all those servants in con... contem... the way he made sure they knew he was better than them. If anything, his mistake was that he must be paying them. Gaston could have taught him a thing or two about getting that sort of treatment for free.
And now he was letting that hag have it. Well, fair enough. If he were having a big Christmas party, he wouldn't want some ugly hag messing it up either. She'd distract people from the main attraction: him.
Something weird was going on, though. The hag was getting sort of... shiny. Then she melted – melted! Though her skin had looked a bit melted anyway, disgusting – away, becoming a beautiful blonde. Gaston felt himself nodding his approval. He wasn't sure about that entrance – he didn't like his female beauty mixed with saggy age – but he couldn't fault what was on the scene now. With Belle out of the picture, this lucky lady might be in with a chance.
Except no one here could see him. He really wasn't enjoying that part of the experience.
"You have been deceived by your own cruel heart," said the blonde.
Deceived? Huh, never mind. She was probably another one of those readers, and Gaston was done with them. You could bet this one was all about thinking and ideas as well. He shuddered. Almost as disgusting as the hag thing. Nope, this girl wasn't for him at all.
What was he talking about? She was beautiful. Beautiful was for him.
A scream recaptured his attention. It was coming from the prince. He was screaming like a girl! Gaston shook his head, his respect for him dwindling. Screaming? What kind of man was he?
No kind of man at all.
As Gaston watched, the prince's shape became just as melty as the hag's had been, moving and twisting until...
"Hey! That's you!" Gaston turned to share this revelation with the Beast, but his gaze was fixed on the scene in front of them. Gaston jabbed him in the arm to gain his attention but he didn't noticed, just kept right on staring. As the ugly lump of newly-Beastified prince fell to the floor, a huge tear leaked out of one eye and soaked into the fur on his face. Then another, this one splashing on the ground. The Beast was crying like a baby.
This was it, Gaston realised. This was his chance to finish the creature once and for all. He was almost glad no one would be able to see – where was the glory in killing something while it bawled its eyes out? But it had to be done. Something that weak didn't deserve to live anyway.
Moving quickly, he snatched up some kind of statue from a nearby table and raised it over his head, preparing to bring it down in a devastating blow. The Beast turned and looked at him, but not with that defeated look he'd had in the castle. This look said "Go on then, try it." Gaston took the look at his word. As the statue began its descent, the Beast neatly plucked it out of the air and put it back where it came from.
"Pay attention," he said, moving for the door. "You might learn something."
Gaston scowled. "You said that before."
"I learned that you used to be a dumb prince." Gaston smiled to himself, pleased with this insult.
The Beast smiled right back. "You're right, I was."
Gaston didn't like it when the Beast smiled. "Can I go home now? This is going to be a boring night if you won't fight me like a man."
The Beast's paw was on the handle of the door. He looked down at Gaston. The fur around his eyes was still moist. Stupid monster.
"I'm not a man. I'm a Beast."
Gaston rolled his eyes as they walked back into the corridor. "So what now?"
"Now we're going to look at another Christmas," the Beast replied.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes. You do."
Gaston didn't have an answer to that, and therefore had no choice but to trail after the Beast again, looking through the weird windows in the tunnel. "What's with the rose?" he asked, after a while. He didn't care, but he was bored with the silence.
The Beast sighed. "It was part of the curse. I had to love someone who loved me back before the last petal fell to become human again."
Gaston squinted at the rose. It wasn't looking good. "How long did it take for all the petals to fall off?"
The Beast kept moving. "About ten years."
Gaston laughed. "Ten years and you're still a beast? You're more pathetic than I thought."
The Beast stopped suddenly, seizing a door handle. He yanked the door open. "Shall we?"
Gaston grunted and followed him through. He surveyed the scene. It was dark. Things were broken. Creepy organ music was playing and there was a little pool of firelight in the corner, in which he could just make out a figure sitting in a chair. "You again?" he commented. "Talk about self-obsessed."
The Beast blinked hard a couple of times, then decided to let that one go. "Me again," he confirmed. "Almost ten years later."
"The music helps?" the organ said, in a silky, unnerving voice.
Gaston ran this back in his head, the wheels turning as quickly as possible as he tried to work out what had just happened.
"Your music is the only thing that helps me forget."
It took Gaston a moment to work out that it was the Beast in the chair that was speaking. He turned to the Beast he'd come in with. "Is the organ...talking?" He regretted the question as soon as he'd asked it. Only weak men asked questions. Still, now he had, he was interested in the answer. He was starting to sound as crazy as Maurice. Who, he had to admit, was starting to look slightly less crazy. Gaston winced. He didn't like to change his opinions. It pained him a bit.
"Yes," the Beast said. "That's Forte. He's... no longer a member of my household."
"I see," said Gaston. It was a lie, but he couldn't bring himself to pursue it further.
"Come on." The Beast was off again. They left the dark organ room and marched through several draughty corridors until they reached the stairs. As they did so, a blue blur streaked past them and ran down ahead of them.
"Belle!" Gaston shouted, before realising that she couldn't see him either. He looked at the Beast. "What's she doing here?"
The Beast looked after her with a weird expression on his face. It was like the crying one, but with a little smile. Gaston didn't like him looking at Belle like that. "She was my..." he hesitated slightly before he said the word, "prisoner. Remember?"
"Well, yeah. But she looks happy."
The Beast sighed. "She's planning Christmas."
Gaston huffed at the mention of Christmas. Belle too? It was like no one in the world had any idea about what was really important.
As they walked down the stairs, it grew dark. A second blur, this one big and hairy, passed them as the entered the great hall.
"And you're destroying it," Gaston observed – somewhat unnecessarily.
The Beast was looking at the ground. "Are you learning anything yet?" he asked, quietly.
Gaston folded his arms. Something was bothering him. "What makes you think you can teach me anything?"
The Beast looked him in the eyes. "It's like I said before. We're not so different. Didn't you recognise the person we saw before, the one who was cursed by the enchantress? Didn't he remind you of you?"
"I've never been turned into a Beast."
"That's not what I meant. Haven't you ever treated people like they were less important than you because they're not as good-looking as you are?"
Gaston snorted. "Of course! If they were as important as me, they'd have loads of friends and everyone would talk about what they're good at. But they don't, so they're not. It's not my fault they're not good-looking or great at hunting."
"Do you think you deserve everything you've got?"
Gaston frowned. "Of course I do. Who deserves it more than me?"
The Beast crossed the room in silence, opening the door to a great big golden room with windows that seemed to stretch to the sky. Gaston wouldn't have said so out loud, but he was impressed.
"Sometimes," the Beast said, quietly, "People get things they don't deserve."
In the centre of the room, two figures danced. One of them, squeezed awkwardly into a blue jacket, was the Beast. The other was Belle. Smiling, she nestled her head against his chest. The Beast looked like Lefou did when Gaston accidentally tossed him a compliment. They span around the room together, holding one another gently but close.
"Sometimes," the Beast said, "people are just lucky."