He woke up feeling relieved. He always did. It was over. Ten years of asking himself the same unanswerable questions. Ten years of waiting, wishing, hoping, praying to any force that might be out there and then giving up, because no cosmic force for good could let anyone feel the way he did, suffer the way he did. He had deserved it, and yet no one deserved that. He had had a chance to end it, but what sort of chance had it been?
And now it was over. Every morning, that was his first thought. It was over.
Then, he would remember why it was over. He would open his eyes and look at her sleeping form, the gentle brown waves of hair that framed her face, the sheets drawn up to her chin, and he would forget to breathe for a moment, because life seemed to come not from the air around him but from her. The world centred on his perfect wife.
After that, life plunged on. He was carried from one thing to a next by a sort of current, an inescapable flow from one end of the day to the other. He was buoyed along by the servants: a team who, it was often remarked by his visiting peers, operated like a well-oiled machine. They swept him along from duty to duty, meeting to meeting, each one blurring into the next, the people he met and spoke to like distant figures on the shores of islands he sailed past. But there, with Belle, that was the home he returned to each night. Even now, with all he had longed for those ten years restored to him, he could not imagine how he could ever have lived without her.
He didn't know what she did, during those days, but she was happy, and the warmth of her love made him feel he could do anything.
She kept her eyes closed when she awoke, a barrier against the world. With her eyes closed, she could invent a dream of her own, the way she used to make up adventures in her head. She would lie there, keeping her breathing steady as though in sleep, and feel the warmth of him beside her, and dream that their bed was the whole world, a world that was just the two of them enclosed safely in the sheets.
He would always pull her out of the dream, getting up carefully so as not to disturb her. She would open her eyes slowly, blinking, and receive his soft gaze with a gentle smile. Lumière would enter then, gauging the time immaculately as always, and talk him through his appointments for the day as he helped him to dress, and she would sit up in bed and remind herself what a silly dream it was, and how dreadful it would really be to be stuck in a world the size of a bed with only her husband for company.
He would disappear soon after, leaving her with a kiss on the forehead and a promise to see her at dinner, a promise he never broke unless he had to. She would spend the day reading or gardening, an interest she had recently discovered, to the chagrin of the legion of gardeners who had been reluctantly prevailed upon to allot her a small, out-of-the way section of garden where she would not be too much bother to anyone. Sometimes she would ride to visit her father. He had been offered a home in the castle, and visited often, but preferred to remain in his workshop, tinkering with his inventions.
The village had changed a lot in the two years since her marriage. As a princess' former home, it had become something of a tourist attraction and, as a result, local business was booming. It seemed as though every time she visited, something had changed. A shop selling local curiosities would have opened up in someone's front room, or the baker would be walking around with gold rings on his fingers, drawing the attention of passers-by to the sign over his door that declared that his shop had once been purveyor of bread to the princess. Belle refrained from pointing out that he had been the only baker in town until the business explosion, because she was pleased that he was doing well.
She would finish these visits at the town's new library, funded by the prince at her request. Just the sight of it made her flush with pride, and think how lucky she was to be able to effect change like this. Inside, the familiar face of the former bookseller would beam her approach – when she had offered to buy his entire stock for the library, he had offered his services as a librarian and she had been delighted to accept. She would stay a while, talking to him and watching the initially-reluctant townspeople get to grips with the notion of books they could borrow for free. Some of them had learned to read there, clustering in groups around people who already could, soaking up the knowledge.
And then she would go home and dress for dinner.
It was evening, two weeks after their anniversary.
"What did you do today?" she asked him, her soup spoon poised, peering into his candlelit face across the table.
He swallowed. "Preparations for next week, mostly." Next week was the visit of the crown prince of Illyria – an infertile but gold-rich country to the north – and his retinue to discuss new trading opportunities. If they could be persuaded to pay a good price for wheat and other exports, it would be an immense boost for farming and the royal family's popularity. They weren't unpopular, especially now that things were back to normal after the prince's disappearance, but a little extra popularity had never harmed a monarch or his family.
"Is it all going well?"
"Pretty well." He smiled. "I'm sure Lumière would appreciate your help in selecting a suit in which I can receive them."
She smiled back. "I'll speak to him tomorrow."
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too."
Gaston's recovery had taken a long time. For months, he had barely seen the light of day, drifting in and out of consciousness, consumed in a cloud of pain. His injuries would have killed any number of lesser men, but if anything, he felt the pain with a greater intensity. Gaston knew what pain looked like on other creatures, and he knew what it felt like to work one's muscles sore to increase one's strength, but he had never really known it himself. He knew it now.
The extent of his injuries, as Lefou had summarised the endless babble of pointlessly long words the doctor had used, was that everything was broken. The doctor had added that it was a miracle that he had survived, but Gaston had snorted at that. He had survived because he was Gaston, and no one did anything like Gaston did. Surviving that fall had been just another thing he was the best at, and it had come as no surprise to him when he had finally woken up, alive.
And now he was better. Not as good as he had been, because that was one hell of a standard to live up to and he really hadn't been very well. But better.
He was working on it, his recovery. Every day, from dawn until dusk, he engaged in an intensive programme of exercises that would help him get his strength back. He pushed himself hard, too hard, but he was determined. He was Gaston, he was the best, and he couldn't hang around being weak because of some accident. Someone would come along, get the wrong idea – someone would think there was room for another hero in this town, and there wasn't. There wasn't room in the country, in the world for anyone else like him, because no one like him existed.
It had been while completing his twenty-first lap around the village one morning that he had seen Belle, riding her horse away from that weird building that had appeared, the one that was full of all those books – put together, he assumed, so that they could have a massive bonfire for the Winter Festival and rid themselves of them once and for all. He knew it was her, but at the same time, it wasn't. Maybe it was the dress. She was dressed like a princess or something.
He had asked Lefou about it. He'd made a funny face and looked at his shoes, so Gaston had grabbed him by his collar and hauled him up to eye level before repeating the question. Lefou had turned pink and stopped breathing so he'd put him back down.
"She's married to the prince."
Gaston needed a moment to digest this information. There were two problems here. One,Belle had married someone else? It was impossible, wasn't it? He'd never known Lefou to lie to him, not after turning that colour. She had been deluded over that Beast business, of course, but he had always known that she would come to her senses and marry him eventually. He made a mental note to do double the number of push-ups tomorrow, if he could figure out what that was. He was losing his grip on the town. Two... "What prince?" he growled.
Lefou took a deep, wheezing breath, loosened his collar and began.
Hello and thank you for reading! This is my first full-length post-transformation fic, and has been partly based on my old one-shot "Object of Revulsion" which is about Gaston surviving the fall from the castle. I'd like to thank HeavensScribe for the review requesting a continuation of that fic. While I didn't really feel like I could go anywhere with OoR, it's definitely inspired me to write this! As with that, I'm going to need you to suspend your disbelief for this, both to accept that he survived and that he has made such a good recovery after two years. The only explanation I can offer for this is that... well, he's Gaston. Other than that, I've got nothing.
I hope you liked this, and that you stay tuned for the rest! Among other things, expect angst, romance, magic and arguments between Lumière and Cogsworth. See you next chapter! Oh, and all reviews would be very gratefully received.