When Tom lead him to the town Gaston was surprised to see how little the town had changed. Most of the same shops were still there and people were running about buying and selling just as they had when he'd left. It was a bit jarring to think that his disappearance hadn't had much of an impact on the town. But the thought didn't disturb him as it once would have, life goes on. The world wouldn't stop turning without him in it and he was, surprisingly, fine with that. A sudden idea came to him. He pulled up the hood of a cloak he'd borrowed from he castle so that his face was hidden.
"Hey Tom, how about you don't tell everyone I'm back just yet? I want to have a look around town first," he said.
Tom blinked at him in surprise, "Well, alright if that's what you want." he said. He was still surprised by this new Gaston. Throughout the whole journey back to the village he hadn't once talked about himself and now he wanted to look around without being recognized. The old Gaston would have orchestrated a parade in honor of his return...
"That's what I want Tom, you go take care of LeFou. I'll meet you at the Tavern this evening."
Gaston left Tom and began wandering around. There went the baker with his tray, like always. True he was much older now, and he moved more slowly but that was the same baker he'd known twenty years ago. The same butcher, gunsmith and blacksmith. He paused when he reached the bookshop. He couldn't say he remembered who had run it but he was certain it wasn't the pretty young woman stocking the shelves. He'd never been in the bookshop before in his life, but there was no time like the present.
When he stepped in he gave the young woman a once over. Very pretty; long, flowing, chestnut hair, big blue eyes and the kind of figure that a real man could appreciate. When she noticed him she turned, "Can I help you Monsieur?"
Gaston considered pulling down his hood and flashing her his winning smile but something held him back, he wasn't in his twenties anymore, he was in his forties and now that he thought about it there was no reason to flirt with this pretty girl. He didn't know the first thing about her, and he'd just gotten back. No need to get back into old habits.
"May I browse the store Mademoiselle?" he asked after a moment of thought. Now that he was here he may as well take a look around...maybe he'd find a copy of the Odyssey to buy when he made some money. At the moment all he had were the fancy clothes he'd borrowed from the castle. By castle standards it was simple, a burgundy coat, white shirt, knee length white breeches and shiny black boots, all worn under a flashy, black travel cloak. It was the kind of outfit he would have worn to a wedding or other formal occasions, but that Lumiere fellow insisted it was everyday wear.
The girl smiled and nodded. The bookstore didn't get many customers, she couldn't get a good look at his face but he didn't seem like anyone she'd seen in town, come to think of it, he didn't seem the type to come into a small bookstore and look for reading material. The stranger was easily six feet four inches and he looked like he could grapple a bear with his broad chest and strong arms. But his attire was more suited to that of a gentleman than a peasant. She watched him peruse the selection before he picked up a book and walked over to the counter with it.
"How much does this one cost?" he asked. "I don't have the money right now, but if you could hold it for me I'd be grateful."
She nodded, "May I have your name? I'll make a note of it,"
Gaston hesitated, this girl was young, she'd probably been a child when he'd run off to kill the Beast. He doubted she'd know him. so he gave his name. "Just do me a favor and don't go spreading it around town," he'd requested. The shopkeeper had agreed and as she watched him go she couldn't help but be curious, men like that didn't just wander into this provincial town everyday!
As Gaston passed a shop that sold pots and pans he checked his reflection on the surface of one, he drew back the hood just enough to examine his face. The scar was what he noticed first, a long red gash marring his otherwise still handsome features. He didn't really mind as much as he thought he would, the mark would remind him of his time as a beast and serve to keep him grounded in the future when his old habits crept back up on him. He left his hair loose, but still combed it back to make it look a little neater, the grey streaks at his temples didn't detract from his appearance as much as he thought they would. He decided he was pleased to be human again and happy enough not to make any complaints about his face.
Gaston finally made it to the Tavern, by then most of the town had seen him and they were already gossiping about the new stranger.
"I think he's a lord, who else can afford to dress like that?"
"What's he doing here? Is he looking for a wife?"
"I'll bet he's handsome under that hood!"
When he opened the door to the the Tavern he found it just as he'd left it years ago. His chair was still in front of the fireplace and his portrait was still hanging up with all of his many antlers and skins. He frowned when he examined the portrait, when it had been painted he'd loved it, now he didn't know...in the picture his head was thrown back and his chest puffed out like a rooster while he stood with one foot on some conquered animal. He looked so...arrogant. Perhaps he'd request it be taken down later, it was an eyesore. He thought for a moment to rake his claws through the canvas...he shook his head. He didn't have claws any longer, nor tail, nor fangs. It was going to take some getting used to. He felt a bit odd, he wasn't the beast anymore, but he wasn't that man in the painting either...who was he now?
"He was so handsome wasn't he?" said a high-pitched female voice wistfully.
Gaston turned, he thought he recognized the voice but the woman it belong to didn't seem familiar. She look like she was about his age give or take. But it was hard to tell under all her makeup. The woman had caked on thick layers of powder and rouge, she was a bit pudgy looking around the cheeks and arms but her corset had been laced so tightly he wondered how she could breath. Now well judging by her wispy voice. She was blond, some how that seemed familiar to him but he couldn't place this woman's face.
"I suppose," he said puzzling over her for a moment. Now where had he seen her?...
"My sisters and I idolized him but he had his eyes on someone else. Then he disappeared, such a shame...I wanted to marry him, he was so gorgeous."
Then it clicked, this must have been one of the triplets. Her dress was green so she must be...he frowned. What were there names? He couldn't remember, but he was willing to be this was one of them. In spite of her age the woman was still showing off her assets. Her neckline was indecently low, and when she moved he caught a flash of leg.
"Why did you like him so much?" asked Gaston.
"He was simply the best! At everything!" she squealed, "And he was handsome too!"
The woman looked confused, as though in her lifetime it had never occurred to her that there was more to someone than looks and talent. "What else could there be?" she asked after thinking it over. Gaston felt sorry for her, it was clear that she hadn't changed in the twenty years he'd been gone.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"I'm called Gigi, over there are my sisters Fifi and Mimi," she pointed to a nearby table, her sisters looked about the same as she did although the one in red had had better luck staying young and pretty looking than the one in the yellow or green.
"Don't any of you have husbands?" he asked.
"Are you joking? After Gaston there's no man that will do," said Gigi, the fact of the matter was that the men in town didn't really want any of them for wives. They all had less than sterling reputations and none of the respectable villagers wanted much to do with them. Some of the villagers were even referring to them as "Gaston's leftovers".
"Oh, well that's too bad," he said edging away from them to sit at the bar.
"Want a drink stranger?" asked the bartender, when LeFou was absent the position was usually filled by a young man named Jean but today it was a woman. She was quiet beautiful if a little wild looking with a thick mass of auburn curls cascading freely down her back. She had nice eyes too...a vibrant green color that he found very appealing.
"I don't have any money with me right now," he said.
"Your credit is still good here," said the woman smoothly as she poured him a drink, "Liking the town?" she asked brushing a curl off of her cheek.
He nodded, the credit statement surprised him, "how do you know my credit's good?"
She gave him a wink, "Same way I know you're a handsome fellow under that hood, were you surprised to learn that life in the town barely hiccuped when you left?"
"Wait- how do you know all this?"
"I know a little about a lot," she wagged a finger at him nonchalantly, "Besides you have the look of someone who's just been on a twenty year Odyssey."
Gaston smiled wryly, "I guess you could say that," he pulled down his hood, the woman smiled at him.
"You really are a good looking fellow," she said, "don't be to torn up about the scar. It adds character."
"You know more than you're letting on, and you're letting on a lot," Gaston frowned at her.
"I do!" she replied cheerfully. Gaston got the impression that there was something otherworldly about her but before he could ask further questions one of the triplets recognized him.
"Oh my lord...He's back!" The yellow one (Fifi?) squealed flouncing over and parking herself on the stool next to him so she could get a better look. He was older but there was no question who it was. "Gaston!"
As soon as she said his name a hush fell over the Tavern. Then there was a great upheaval as everyone scrambled closer for a look.
"Oh my word it is him!"
"We thought you were dead."
"Where'd you get the scar?"
"He's still gorgeous!"
"Where have you been all this time?"
Gaston found himself surrounded by an eager audience, every eye on him and every ear opened to what he had to say. They all wanted to hear his story, he was the center of attention again for the first time in twenty years. He could tell them a marvelous story, keep them on edge all night just like he used to. Instead, he turned back to his drink, "I just went on a long trip, did some thinking and learned a few things. I've got nothing much to tell,"
The crowd was flabbergasted. Gaston wasn't going to regale them with tales of his bravery? He'd been gone twenty years and had nothing to brag about? Unheard of! Impossible! Surely he was joking. But Gaston simply finished his drink, it soon became clear to all that he was not going to say anything. Gaston was going to sit quietly to the side and give up the spotlight today. He gave the bartender a nod and stood. She gave him a knowing smile and took his mug, "Good day to you Monsieur Gaston," she said, as he turned to leave she added under her breath. "Well done."
Soon the word that Gaston had returned spread throughout the town and he found that he could not walk through the street without being harassed by people demanding to hear where he'd been. He always replied by telling them that he'd simply wandered around and eventually found his way back to the little town. After about two days of staying at the Inn he couldn't take anymore of their hassling and he returned to the castle. He hadn't really wanted to stay there, even so Belle had forgiven him there was still a lot of animosity between himself and her husband. But he supposed that was to be expected...he had stabbed the man after all. Still, Lynette had told him he could stay until she and her young man got married and he intended to take her up on that offer.
Adam was less than pleased, he kept quiet about it though. It seemed everyone had forgiven him and he knew that Mrs. Potts even liked him. There wasn't much he could do but grit his teeth and hold his temper in check. Although there were times he wasn't certain why he was angered, this Gaston was hardly the same man who had tried so hard to kill him...it had been so long that he nearly forgot himself and couldn't muster the anger. Perhaps it was time to let go...well, he'd see about that.
The wedding was still a few days off, Gaston mostly kept to himself when he wasn't looking after Mrs. Potts, he was a bit nervous to show himself to the other members of the castle. He didn't want to provoke any hostilities, although if it came down to a fight he had no doubt that he'd win. Currently he was walking around the grounds, he didn't much like being cooped up inside all day. As he walked around he came across one of the stable boys trying to keep control of a black horse.
"Easy Jafar!" the boy said tugging at the reins. The horse reared and was about to bring his sharp hooves down on the boy when Gaston jerked the lad back. Grabbing the reigns he pulled the horse down.
"Steady there, whoa!" he said, he made soft hissing sounds through his teeth to calm the horse and eventually it worked. The stallion quieted, but it continued to paw the ground and toss it's head.
"This is a nice horse, trying to break him in?" Gaston asked the stable boy. The lad shook his head.
"That horse has been with us for two years now, I don't think he'll ever be completely tame."
Gaston eyed the beast thoughtfully, "It's a fine animal though, I'll wager with the right owner he can learn how to behave," He reached out a cautious hand and patted the horses nose, the horse flattened its ears for a split second then accepted the caress.
Gaston turned, the King was speaking to him. "Your highness," said Gaston giving him a deferential nod.
"That horse is nothing but trouble, if you think you can train him properly you can keep him," said Adam.
Gaston nodded his thanks, as Adam turned to leave Gaston called to him. There had been something he wanted to ask, something that had been bothering him since his transformation...
"Did you feel like you weren't quite right after you became a human again?"
Adam's brow furrowed, he could see that it was costing Gaston to ask him this question. He couldn't deny he enjoyed it a little, seeing the man so uncomfortable. But at the same time, he understood what Gaston was feeling. The transition from beast to human was not instantaneous. There was always the urge to growl or to use ones claws for months afterward. The dulling of his sense of hearing and smell to bring them back down to human standards could be quite jarring and he imagined the man was still getting used to not having a tail.
"It's quite normal to feel a little odd after you change back."
Gaston nodded slowly, "I feel like I'm not really the Beast or the old Gaston...it's more like I'm the Beast in Gaston's body. Instead of changing back into what I was I became something completely new," he explained. "I don't know how to describe it!"
"Bittersweet and strange?" an ironic smile tugged at Adam's lips as he spoke the words.
"Yes, that's to be expected. Take care of that horse," said Adam walking back towards the castle.
Gaston turned back to the horse and smiled, the conversation had been brief but a lot had been said. Gaston knew that he no longer had to worry about the king harboring ill feelings. Although neither man would ever admit it, not even to themselves, there was an understanding between them. Not friendship or camaraderie by any means, just the sort of kinship two who have suffered the same burden form when they find themselves in a world where no one else would understand just what they have gone through. The past was gone and all debts were squared away, each man could part ways and never be concerned for the other again and that suited them both.
It wasn't long before Chip and Lynette were married, it was a grand occasion and when the ceremony finished Lynette walked over to Gaston and kissed his cheek. "I suppose I should thank you, if you hadn't been such a dreadful brute and kidnapped me Chip would have taken forever to tell me how he felt," she said. Her new husband rolled his eyes and twirled her into his arms for a dance as the band started to play.
Gaston laughed as he watched them go, the seemed a happy young couple and he was certain that they'd be just fine. He walked over to Mrs. Potts, who was sniffling into her handkerchief. "Are you alright?"
"Right as rain, my dear. I'm so glad I got to see this, I can die happy now."
Gaston frowned, "Just don't die too soon. I still want to come by and see you."
"So you are leaving us then?"
"Aw, come on Mrs. Potts! You know this isn't the kind of lifestyle for me. Much to fancy, I think I may build a nice cabin in the woods. I find that I'm wanting peace and quiet more and more. I'm not used to all the attention they're giving me in town."
"Well that's unheard of, Gaston not wanting attention," Belle chuckled walking up to them. Gaston grinned, Belle looked radiant. Being Adam's wife and Lynette's mother suited her. Although he still found her to be beautiful he no longer had any feelings for her and was much more at ease in her presence than he had been.
"I'm a changed man Belle, I actually bought a book the other day!" well, truthfully he had gone back to purchase the book to talk to the pretty shopkeeper, (he could still flirt if he wanted to!).
"I see, well Gaston I hope you have a happy life from now on," Belle patted his sleeve then went to dance with her husband.
The German prince was happily waltzing the maid who'd been a spoon across the floor. He would be going home soon but he planned to keep in touch with Chip and Lynette.
Gaston was content to stand aside and let the others dance away when someone plucked at his sleeve.
"May I have this dance?"
Turning he recognized the green-eyed bartender from before, she was dressed in a pale, green gown that had little white rosettes adorning the skirt, he wild hair was left unbound to fall freely down her back. She looked otherworldly amongst the rest of the guests. With a wry smile he bowed and held out his arms for her. She put a hand on his shoulder and let him lead her to the floor.
"Come for the wedding or for me?" he asked.
"Both, I just had to see, again, how well you were doing."
"Do you know me well then?" asked Gaston twirling her before pulling her back to his chest. He had a feeling she was teasing him, but he found he didn't mind so much when she was smiling so sweetly at him.
"Well enough, I was worried for a time that you'd never find happiness but you're going the right way now."
"Well...thank you," he said,
The woman smiled and kissed him lightly, pulling a rosette from her dress she tucked it into the lapel of his jacket. "Go live happily ever after like all the others now," she said. The music ended and she was gone. Gaston had a feeling he'd see her again someday. He just hoped it wouldn't be because he'd messed up, taking a last look at the bride and groom he made his way out. It seemed that he had been part of a fairytale, but rather than anger him as it had before he laughed at the thought. It seemed, perhaps, that fairy tales weren't so bad after all...