She knew he wasn't leaving.
It was almost funny, this change in his character. Before, she'd been the one trying to seek him out while he hid in his tower or ran off adventuring, leaving her to keep one eye on the horizon, waiting for him to return. Now, she wandered the castle on good days, stayed exhausted in bed or in the library on bad ones, and he seemed to be everywhere, although he was nowhere to be seen.
Seen being the operative word.
Before, she'd had to work hard just to spend five minutes with him. Now, no matter where she was, she could feel him watching her, hovering nearby, waiting for her to need him. Waiting for her to give in and invite him inside, out of the cold and back into her heart.
He could take his guilt and put it where the sun didn't shine. He deserved it, and she wasn't going to absolve him.
Even if she did find some comfort in knowing he was there.
Even if she did love him, with everything she was, no matter how badly he hurt her.
Finally, a week into their uneasy coexistence, she broke the spell: "You can come inside, you know." She said it out loud, talking to what appeared to be thin air, knowing he was just around the corner in the stacks, watching her.
No reply. She sighed, exhausted as always, "It's okay. I'm not strong enough yet to throw my book at you."
There was a moment's pause, and then his head appeared around the bookshelf, an almost comically childish look of trepidation on his features. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." She went back to her book, but the words didn't make sense. She was too busy watching him out of the corner of her eye, as he took a tentative seat on the armchair beside her.
"How are you feeling today?" he asked. No 'dearie's attached: he was serious.
She slumped back on the chair, and let the plush back support her neck and head, "Tired. The stiffness is fading, though: I came down the stairs today and didn't wince."
"That's… good." He didn't know how to break the wall between them, and neither did she. She liked watching him off-balance, unsure of himself. She liked watching him not know how to make something the way he wanted it to be; she liked watching him deal with the consequences of his actions.
"I need to…" she didn't want to say this, but she had to. They had to talk about this, and he wasn't going to bring it up, "I need to thank you. For coming when I called."
He was completely thrown by that, and a vicious little thrill of triumph ran down Belle's spine, "I – well… you're welcome, Belle."
"Even if it was your fault that I needed to in the first place." She turned back to her book, leaving him to continue the conversation: let him do some of the work, for once.
"Belle, I would apologise for that if you'd only let me."
She looked up at him, eyebrows raised, eyes challenging, "Fine. Give it your best shot, let's hear it."
"I shouldn't have cast you out... and I certainly shouldn't have accused you of being a spy for the Queen. It was unjust, and I apologise wholeheartedly."
"Okay, that covers… about one third of it." She nodded, and allowed a small smile to slip through, "Well done."
"What else is there?" he had a slightly annoyed, slightly frustrated edge to his voice that angered Belle: he wasn't allowed to feel anything but guilt for his crimes, and gratitude for the fact that she was alive, in his home, and speaking to him all at once.
"When did you realise that I wasn't a traitor?" she asked, knowing the question was cruel but needing an answer, "Before or after you saw what she did to me?"
"The moment you left the castle." He replied, and she was impressed. She knew him, better than she knew anyone else in the world: he didn't lie. When a statement was that straightforward, that plainly spoken, then he was telling the truth. "A true traitor would have done all she could to stay: you walked out with your head held high."
"And you didn't come after me?"
"Why would I? You were going home, Belle, to your life and friends and family. I supposed you were better off free from our bargain, and forgetting me. How could I have known what they would do to you?"
She thought that through, turned it over in her head, looking for hidden meanings and subtle tricks. She found none, and her smile came back.
It was slow, and tired, and brief, but real.
He smiled back, and Gods, how she'd missed that. She missed him when he was in another room, despite how she hated him, despite how much loving him had cost her.
"Anything more, dearie?"
"No. I don't think so." She looked up at him, and smiled, a potentially terrible idea rushing into her head, "Can I have one thing, though?"
"Hug me?" she held her hands out, over her blanket, and loved the shock and near-horror on his face.
She was about to give up on him. But then, slowly, he rose to his feet and came over to her. He knelt at her feet, this great and unholy monster, and gently wrapped his arms around her.
She leaned forward, her hands sliding under his arms to hold his shoulders.
It was the most wonderful thing in the world: it was the first thing since she'd left her tower that made her bruises stop hurting, and the ache in her limbs recede.