Adam awoke with a start. His cheek was pressed against something hard and his right arm was twisted at a strange angle. He also seemed to be growing colder, as though something warm had passed through him, then disappeared without explanation. Was this why he'd woken up?
Opening his eyes, he could see the fuzzy shape of a white balustrade backlit by an orange sunrise. There was also someone kneeling next to him – someone with brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. He knew that ponytail...
"Belle?" he said before his brain could catch up with his mouth.
The figure shifted and let out a small gasp. "Bea-Adam!"
Before he could even lift his head, she threw herself over him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. Although he couldn't see her, the flowery scent in her hair told him enough. It was Belle. Memories came flooding back to him: waking up next to Belle in the West Wing, servants coming to warn him of Gaston's attack, going to confront Gaston, Belle intervening, Gaston stabbing him in the back. His final moments had been spent in Belle's arms, trying to comfort her while despairing the fact that he'd failed to protect her. Gaston was going to take her back to the village and force her to become his wife...
Except he hadn't taken her away. As his vision grew clearer, Adam realized that the hunter was no longer on the balcony. Belle must have escaped! This revelation filled him with a warm fuzzy feeling. He pushed his chest off the ground and wrapped his own arms around Belle, returning her embrace. Only – he shouldn't have been able to sit up, much less move, due to his injury. Before, even shifting a fraction had made him tear up in agony. Now there was nothing – he was free of any pain.
Belle must have noticed this anomaly too, for after a minute of hugging Adam, she pulled away and looked at his chest. "Your wound!" she said in surprise.
He followed her gaze, startled to see that the place where Gaston had stabbed him was now whole and smooth. Aside from the drying bloodstains on his shirt, it looked as though he'd never been injured. A quick check of his hands and mouth told him that they were clean of blood as well.
"She must have healed you...before she left," Belle continued in amazement.
"She?" he repeated, confused.
"The enchantress," she explained. "It was a miracle, Adam. Just when I thought I'd lost you, she came and saved us both. She was furious with Gaston for trying to kill you, so she threatened to turn him into a beast unless he completed a task for her. Gaston was afraid of what would happen if he refused, so he agreed, and he took LeFou with him. They all disappeared just before you woke up."
Adam looked as though Belle had just told him that Cogsworth had decided to resign from his job as head of household to work as an acrobat at the local circus. He knew it would have taken a miracle to tear Gaston away from Belle. But even he would have never guessed that that miracle would be the same woman who had sent him on his directionless soul search all those weeks ago. "She really stopped Gaston?" he asked her as moved himself into a sitting position.
Belle nodded. She was about to tell him the whole story when she noticed two men running out on to the balcony towards them. The first was a thin man with mousy brown hair and a long nose; the second, a rotund man with dark brown hair and a pocket watch. Belle had never seen them before, but their faces and postures were strikingly familiar. She and Adam got to their feet to meet them.
"Lumiere?" Adam said to the first man.
The man he'd called Lumiere grinned. "Oui, c'est moi! You have done it, both of you! You have broken the spell!"
It took a moment for Belle to understand what Lumiere meant. Then, she remembered. By confessing her love, she'd broken the enchantment over the castle, restoring both Adam and the servants to their original forms. They were all human again. "I can't believe it," she said, looking from the maitre d' to the second man, who she now recognized as Cogsworth. "This is amazing!"
"Indeed it is," Cogsworth nodded. "And it's so good to know you're both safe. When we found out you hadn't reached your father, Belle, we were frantic with worry. We searched everywhere, trying to find you."
"You must come inside, mes maîtres," Lumiere added. "Everyone is waiting to see you."
To say "everyone" was waiting to see them was no understatement. Belle and Adam had only a minute to admire the castle's new white interior before they were met by a cacophony of voices echoing from the floor below them. They stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down to see a mob of servants clapping and cheering for them from the landing. Belle couldn't recognize everyone, but those she did recognize included Mrs. Potts, Chip, Babette, Madame de la Grande Bouche, Fife, Angelique, Webster, Crane and La Plume.
"Quel bonheur!" Babette cried.
"It is a miracle! Simply a miracle!" Mrs. Potts said with tears in her eyes.
"You must tell us how you broke the spell, mademoiselle," said La Plume.
"I wouldn't mind hearing the whole story too," Adam said from behind her.
Not one to keep anyone in suspense, Belle agreed. For the next ten minutes, she relayed to everyone how Diotima had threatened to turn Gaston into a beast for his selfishness unless he agreed to embark on a quest for her. By the time she got to the part about the cursed princess, the servants looked amazed and Adam looked positively baffled.
"So then...she let him off the hook," he said. "He nearly killed me, and he got a princess out of it?"
"Oh no!" said Belle. "It's not like that at all. The princess isn't what Gaston thinks she is: the enchantress told me that she turns into an ogre every night. So Gaston will have to learn to look past her appearance if he wants to break her spell. It's the same lesson you learned – just a different way of teaching it. And if he can't rescue the princess or break her spell, then the enchantress will return and turn him into a beast after all. "
Belle's explanation made sense, but Adam was still skeptical. Next to being a prisoner for ten years, gallivanting in a foreign land, slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess was hardly his idea of a punishment. But then again, put in Gaston's shoes, the Prince knew he wouldn't have lasted an hour in the wilderness without complaining that his punishment was unfair. Maybe the enchantress wanted to trick Gaston into thinking the princess was worthy of him before he rescued her. Adam still wasn't entirely happy with Gaston's sentence, but could be happy knowing Gaston would have that disappointment to face once he saw what the princess really looked like. And if he failed, he'd end up suffering the same curse as Adam had anyway. That definitely cheered him up.
"Well what happened next?" he asked Belle. There had to be more to the story, or else the spell wouldn't be broken, and he wouldn't be alive right now.
Belle continued on to explain the mechanics behind Diotima's enchantment, and how she had to confess her love for Adam in order to break it. By the end of her tale, the servants were delighted while Adam was dumbfounded.
"That was all it took?" he said as he looked back at Belle.
"That's all it took."
"I knew it," Lumiere said smugly. "I knew that love was what he needed to break the spell! Didn't I tell you all that that was the answer?"
"So all those times we were in the woods, we could have broken it weeks ago!" Adam muttered. "But because I didn't believe—"
"It's done," Belle reminded him gently, putting a hand on his cheek. "We're together now, and that's what matters. I'm just glad you're alive. When Gaston attacked you...I thought I was going to lose you forever."
"I'd never leave you, Belle," the Prince replied, looking back at her affectionately. "If there was a way I could come back to life, just to stop Gaston from taking you away, I would. But why on earth didn't you leave the castle when I asked you to?"
"Isn't it obvious?" she answered. "I couldn't leave you with Gaston and not know what happened to you. I love you."
It was the first time Adam had heard her say those words, and they immediately wiped all regrets about not breaking the spell earlier from his mind. Not caring who was watching, he leaned towards her face and kissed her. Belle was startled at first, and then she tilted her head and kissed him back.
For the servants, who had been waiting for Belle and their master to kiss for ages, it couldn't have been a more satisfying moment.
The next fifteen minutes passed by in a blur for Belle and the Prince. Servants everywhere showered them with hugs and words of gratitude, so happy they were to be human again they could barely contain themselves. Belle tried her best to smile and return their thanks where she could, but as dawn turned to morning, she found herself thinking less about the servants and more about returning to bed. This was the longest she'd been awake since her illness, and now that Adam's life was no longer on the line, she was aware exactly how sore and weary her body was becoming.
Adam must have noticed Belle was getting tired too. Eventually he turned to Cogsworth and Lumiere and asked them to manage the servants while he escorted Belle to her room. They walked back together in silence, Belle thinking about how easy it was to believe Adam was the Beast when she closed her eyes. She knew now of course that he'd always been the Beast. She just hadn't opened her mind to the idea until now.
Adam still couldn't believe how fortunate he was. In less than a quarter of a day he'd survived a fatal stab wound, learned that Belle loved him, and was rid of Gaston, hopefully for good. For the first time in several weeks, he and Belle were free to start over, all past mistakes and misunderstandings behind them.
Well, not all of them.
Their night of passion in the West Wing was still fresh in Adam's mind. Ultimately, he was still unsure of what he should do. He knew what the prince in his old portrait would have done: nothing. After all, it wasn't unusual for a prince to have a mistress or two. Had he not been cursed, he might have bedded tons of women already and not cared for any of them. But he didn't think of Belle that way.
He loved her.
He hadn't wanted Belle solely for her body tonight. He wanted her for her mind, for her spirit. For the fact that he'd made so many mistakes, and she was the only one who saw him, not as a beast, but the man he wanted to be. Even if they decided not to consummate their love physically again, there were still too many things about tonight he couldn't erase, things that continued to haunt him as he walked beside her, closer than they'd been in weeks.
He would never pressure Belle into making a decision she didn't want to make. But there was one thing he could do to show her that he still cared and that he didn't want to treat what they had done together as a one-time mistake they would never speak of again. He just had to ask her first.
Back in her room, Belle sat at the edge of the mattress and watched as the Prince sat down beside her, placing both his hands in hers. For a moment she thought he was going to kiss her again, but then she realized he was looking at the floor instead of her face.
"Is something wrong?" she asked him in concern.
"Belle," he began hesitantly. "I've…done a lot of stupid things these past few weeks. I lied to you. I let you spend weeks mourning for me, when I should have been comforting you. I doubted your feelings for me. I hurt you. And…" he paused. "If it wasn't for the fact that I almost lost you to those wolves that night, I may have never realized how much you really meant to me."
He took a deep breath. "I love you, Belle. I've loved you since the day you mended my arm when I was the beast – maybe even sooner. And after what we...did last night, I don't think I want to go on anymore without you being somewhere in my life. I…need to ask you."
"Ask me what?" said Belle. He couldn't mean...?
"To marry me," he finished, watching her hopefully. "But only if that's what you want."
Belle opened and closed her mouth rapidly, realizing he was serious. "Of course it's what I want," she said before she could stop herself. She'd missed Adam terribly these past few weeks, missed him in a way she'd never knew she could miss anyone. And she'd made love to him, so a marriage would legitimize anything, especially if she became with child. The idea of having a family – of having any future with her beast – was comforting after mourning him for so many weeks. Still, there was one thing she needed to know before she completely consented. "But what about your status? I mean...can you do that? I thought that princes couldn't marry commoners."
"It doesn't matter," he replied dismissively. "I'd find a way to make it work. Even if it meant changing my name, giving up my title, finding a job, living in your village. You mean too much for me not to try."
Belle exhaled deeply. "You'd really do all that for me?" she asked, moved by his dedication.
One look into his blue eyes and she knew he was telling the truth. This was not the selfish beast who had imprisoned her father. This was a man who would risk everything to defend her freedom, a man who had concealed his identity because her happiness meant more to him than his own. This was a man who had loved her even when he thought she didn't love him back, who would die for her if he had to. Suddenly, Belle didn't have any more questions to ask.
"Then yes," she confirmed. "Yes, I will."
Adam straightened up with a start. "Really?"
"I…I'm sorry," he admitted. "I just…given how many times Gaston tried to pressure you into marrying him before, I wasn't sure if you would agree…or even be comfortable with the idea. I knew I wanted to ask you…I just wasn't sure how you'd feel about it."
Belle saw his logic and resisted the urge to laugh. "Gaston believed in marriage in the practice of the word, not the principle," she explained to him. "His idea of a wife was someone who could secure his reputation, who would cook, clean, and give him children. There's no excitement in that. I always knew that if I married, I wanted to marry for love. I wanted to be with someone who would accept me for who I was, just like my parents did when they married each other. That someone is you, whether you believe it or not." She trailed a hand down the side of his face. "My prince in disguise."
The smile on Adam's face was even brighter than the sunlight coming through her window. She couldn't remember the last time he'd looked so happy. "Thank you, Belle," he said. "You have no idea how much this means to me."
He embraced her and she responded, wrapping her own arms tightly around his back. In the past several weeks she'd lost him, mourned him, found him, become one with him, saved his life. It was nice to know now that she would be walking with him, hand-in-hand, to the light at the end of the tunnel.