"Oh look, it snowed last night!" Belle exclaimed when she rose the next morning. The grounds outside her window had been covered in fresh blanket of white, glistening invitingly in the morning sun. Belle quickly donned a pink dress with three-quarter length sleeves but thick material suitable for the cold. A matching fur-lined cloak would ensure her warmth when she ventured outside.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Madam Armoire asked before Belle could leave. "Breakfast," the wardrobe reminded her in response to Belle's confused look.
"Oh, yes of course." Belle removed her cloak but draped it over her arm, too impatient to venture into the sparkling white scene to have to retrieve the cloak later on.
As she went in search of something to eat, she hoped she would run into the Beast. Now that they were on good terms again, she was eager for the chance to be able spend some of that lost time with the him.
Despite the success of last night's dinner, the Beast was terrified that he had ruined everything with Belle by hiding shamefully for the past few days. He felt badly about rushing away from Belle as he had, but his embarrassment was too much to bear at the time to do anything else. Fortunately, Mrs. Potts had come to speak with him the night of the incident, apparently at Belle's request, to ease his torment. Mrs. Potts had helped him understand that Belle had not meant any harm by what she had done, she simply didn't realize what such a thing meant for him. The Beast tried so hard to please Belle, but asking him to recover that much of his humanity was too much.
Dinner last night had done everything Mrs. Potts said it would. Belle had forgiven him, correctly interpreting the dinner for the apology it was. And the Beast had not even needed to mention the horrible episode.
The Beast ventured downstairs that morning, wondering if he might convince Belle to have breakfast with him. He was feeling a bit daring and decided to wear a rather formal green jacket with gold trim, abandoning his usual cloak for the first time in years. As he made his way downstairs, he couldn't help but remember her admitting how lonely she had been in his absence. The very idea of Belle missing his company turned the corners of his mouth up into a smile.
He entered the small dining room Belle preferred to use and found that Belle was there waiting for him. As usual, the sight of her gentle beauty stunned him for a few moments. He couldn't help but notice how her new pink dress set off the roses in her delicate cheeks beautifully.
"Good morning," he greeted her as he sat opposite her at the table.
"Good morning," she replied cheerfully. "Did you see it snowed last night?"
"Oh, I. . .no I didn't," he admitted. How could he not have bothered to even look out a window?
"I was wondering if you would like to go for a walk with me after breakfast? It's so beautiful I just couldn't stay inside."
Belle seemed more excited than necessary about simple frozen water, but the Beast found he was more than happy to go explore the new snow with her.
The dishes served them porridge with sugar and cream. The Beast sniffed eagerly at it and, as soon as the dishes stopped moving about, he dove into the delicious warmth.
A small gasp from across the table halted his eating and he realized what a mess he was making of himself. The porridge was all over his coat, not to mention a good deal of his face and the table. Embarrassed, he looked over at Belle, but she was looking out the window. At a loss of what to do, he noticed Chip scoot a spoon towards his paw. Hesitantly, he took the tiny object and tried to feed himself with it, despite the fact that the utensil nearly disappeared in his massive paw and his mouth was not suited for such a thing. It was useless.
He was about to give up eating altogether, but when he chanced a look at Belle he noticed she was holding her bowl in her hands, daintily sipping from it. Following her lead, the Beast picked up his own bowl and silently they toasted each other. It was much easier to eat like that, not to mention less messy, and the Beast was grateful Belle had subtly given him a better way.
"I'll, uh go change before we go outside," he said when they finished eating, but it was more of a question to Belle to wait for him.
"I'll wait for you by the main door," she replied and the Beast was amazed at how well she had been able to read him. He never meant to be cryptic, but seeking the company of another person, never mind a beautiful girl like Belle, was still so new to him he wasn't entirely sure what he should and should not say.
He changed quickly into a linen shirt and his usual cloak and returned downstairs to see that Belle had donned a beautiful red cloak with white fur that lined the edges. As she pulled the hood up, he couldn't help but notice how beautifully the white fur framed her face.
"Well come on," she beckoned. "Before the snow melts!" He recognized her last remark as a joke and smiled as he joined her by the door.
"What's in the bag?" he asked, noticing a small leather bag hanging from her wrist.
"Some birdseed," she replied. "I thought we might feed the birds. Spring must be not too long off now since there's getting to be so many of them." The Beast nodded, unsure what to say, and offered her his arm so they could walk outside together. He was overjoyed that she took his arm so readily; her hand was no more than small weight on his arm but her touch filled him with a warmth he had not thought possible.
When they reached a spot on the south end of the castle near a snow-covered tree, Belle opened her bag and began scattering seeds on the ground. The Beast watched her do this curiously, never having purposely fed birds before. No sooner had Belle begun to toss the seeds onto the snow then a few birds flew down to meet them, pecking at the seeds with their tiny beaks.
It wasn't long before Belle abandoned the leather bag on a low wall, depositing the remainder of the seeds into a fold of her dress she held out for such a purpose. The Beast watched, mesmerized as tiny birds hopping willingly in the snow after the seeds. A red and a blue bird both caught hold of a seed at the same time, and he heard Belle giggle as the two tiny creatures momentarily fought over it. Apparently, this activity was enjoyable for Belle and the Beast had to admit that the little things were rather amusing.
An idea struck him; if the birds were eating so readily from the cold snow, would they instead rather to sit on his warm paws and eat? He held out his paws to Belle who obligingly filled them with a handful of the birdseed. Unsure exactly how this would work, he crouched down and thrust his cupped paws out towards the birds to show them the seeds, but they only flew a few feet away and ignored him. He tried once more, shuffling closer to them only to have them escape a little distance away again.
"Here, try this," Belle offered as she knelt beside him. She put the rest of the birdseed in his cupped paws and wordlessly directed him with her hands so his paws nearly rested on the snow's surface. Holding onto him with one hand, with her other she took a small handful and spread it out along the snow, catching the attention of a blue bird just in front of them. The bird pecked thoughtfully at the seed in the snow before seeing the mound of it in the Beast's paws. Eagerly and without any sign of fear, the bird willingly hopped onto the seed the Beast held. The Beast could not help grinning triumphantly at Belle, amazed at what they had accomplished. Their eyes met and the Beast could see how happy Belle was; it glistened in her eyes like tiny stars and he couldn't help but wonder if that joy wasn't partially because of him.
He redirected his gaze to the tiny little creature sitting so trustfully in his massive paws. It was curious that something so small would be willing to be so close to a creature like him who could so easily crush it. He would never do such a horrible thing of course, but the bird did not know that. As the trusting bird hopped around his cupped paws, he couldn't help but steal another glance at Belle. She still had not moved by his side, watching the bird with him. After a moment she stretched her hand out and the Beast watched in awe as a bird landed right on her finger as if she had called it.
As she stood to send it off again, using his arm as support to stand, he watched her go and tried to suppress the hunger he felt to be near her. He realized that then Belle had never looked at him with so much happiness as she had just moments ago. It was a different sort of joy than he had seen before. Even when he had given her the library, it was obvious that her joy had been for the room itself. But now he noticed a subtle difference in her happiness that went beyond her mere surroundings. Could it be she was happy simply with him? He dared to believe such a thing was possible.
As Belle sent the beautiful bird flying to a branch in the nearby tree, she couldn't help but notice the Beast's gaze. She smiled at him and quickly dodged behind the tree, holding her hand over her suddenly wildly beating heart. She had never seen the Beast look at her in such a way, so curiously and so longingly. Could it be possible that he had grown to care for her? She twisted her hands together; the very thought of such a thing was a bit alarming, and yet a bit thrilling. Who'd have ever thought that this could be? The Beast who had been so cruel and heartless just a few weeks ago had proven himself to be so gentle and kind, capable of a tenderness she had not thought possible. True, he was not the Prince Charming of her fairy tales, but there was something in him she hadn't seen before.
Her face grew warm as she again pictured his gaze upon her. She pulled her hood down to ease the warmth and tucked a fallen piece of hair back into place.
With a deep breath, she peeked out from behind the tree, though wasn't entirely sure she could withstand another such look from the Beast. Fortunately, he was a bit preoccupied with the dozens of birds that had landed on him, all eager for the seeds in his paws. She giggled at the sight, sending the birds flying back into the air.
The birds flew into the air, their many wings briefly sending his fur stirring in the small breeze they created. When they were all safely away, he looked to Belle to tell her what had just happened, amazed that so many birds had trusted him enough to choose him as their perch. Instead, he was abruptly met with a face full of snow. Surprised, he shook the snow away from his eyes to see Belle laughing behind her hands.
So, she wanted to play, did she? That was one thing the Beast knew how to do very well. With a sly grin, he bent and gathered a large armful of snow, intending to hit the tree she stood by and let the snow fall on her from above. As he raised the massive snowball over his head to throw, he was met with a second snowball to his face. Startled, he overbalanced and fell, his own snowball falling down on top of him. Belle laughed again, the sound like sweet chimes, and the Beast was provoked into a chuckle of his own. A playful growl escaped him and he got up to chase her, unsure what he would do if he caught her, but enjoying the sport all the same.
She dodged behind the tree and he followed her laughter only to be hit a third time with a ball of snow. He bent quickly to make a small snowball of his own and this time managed to hit Belle's shoulder, causing her to gasp and break into another round of giggles. They chased each other around the tree, exchanging snowballs and breathless laughter until Belle collapsed into the snow, grinning widely. The Beast joined her, plunking down in the snow and sending flakes into the air, many of which caught in Belle's hair.
"Oh!" she exclaimed in surprise at the wave of snow that suddenly found itself on her face and hair.
"Sorry," he apologized and brushed the snow gently from her hair. He paused as he realized he had not asked permission to touch her, but judging by her smile she didn't seem to mind.
"That was fun," she said as he brushed the last of the snow from her hair.
"You've got good aim," he replied, finding far too much pleasure at seeing her delicately flushed face and mussed hair.
"Thank you," she said but her words ended with a shiver.
"Let's go inside," he suggested and got to his feet, extending his paw down to Belle to help her up. They entered the castle through the nearest door, for though the birds might be welcoming spring, the winter winds refused to give up so easily. He tried to shelter her as best he could from the winds as they walked towards the castle, glad for once of his bulk. Once inside, he took her cloak for her and hung it on the waiting hook beside him. Together they settled on the rug beside the nearest fireplace to soak up its warmth. Belle was still shivering so, with her permission, the Beast sidled closer to her in the hopes his bulk and fur would quickly warm her.
"If you hand me that book on the table, I'll read for a while if you like," Belle suggested when her teeth stopped chattering, motioning to the table behind him.
"Do you have books hiding in every room now?" he asked with humor as he passed the book to her.
"Of course not. Though I'm sure I could hide several books in each of the castle's rooms without even coming close to emptying that wonderful library. I just happened to be reading in here earlier."
"I should've guessed," he nodded and motioned for her to turn her beautiful, warm gaze on the book instead of him. She obligingly opened the book and began to read as the fire warmed the winter chill.
Thank you to everyone who's been helping me with this story! It's much longer than I originally anticipated but I'm having far too much fun writing it. So keep those reviews coming!