Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 15 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

Belle stared at the door as it closed, book clutched loosely in hand.

What was that about? she thought.

Looking for an answer, she glanced at the book again. It was handsomely bound in brown leather, its title monogrammed in what she was willing to bet was real gold. It probably cost as much to purchase as Philippe had. Yet her captor had handed it to her, so casually, because she'd asked for a book.

Gingerly, she opened it. The cover crackled, telling her it had never been opened. Or if it had, it had been a very long time ago. He'd been telling her the truth about it not being a favorite of his.

She ran a finger down the elaborately printed frontspiece. It repeated the book's title inside a plaque surmounted by symbols of the French Royal House. History was a subject she hadn't had much of a chance to study. Most booksellers stocked novels for the public, along with Bibles, religious tracts and other treatises for moral improvement. Few people were much interested in history outside of scholars in universities.

Belle smiled a little. It seemed Cogsworth had not been exaggerating when he said the castle had an extensive book collection, if it contained items like these.

Which reminded her of something. She looked at the frontspiece again, and sure enough, the book had been published fifteen years before. While this was not a complete confirmation, it at least partially substantiated the notion that the castle had been cut off from the outside world for the past ten years. Belle wondered what the other library books would tell her.

In the meantime, she was far too weak to get out of bed. She knew because she'd already tried, before the castle's Master had so unexpectedly appeared. Her intermittent fever made the room whirl at times, and then gave her others, like now, of perfect clarity. But she could feel the fog starting to close in again. She gently placed the book on the nightstand, drew the curtain, and allowed darkness to descend.

It was two more days before she was finally fever-free. In that time, she'd perused the history book fairly well. The language was archaic in places, but no more so than some of the medieval books of romance she sometimes read. The book itself tended to be dry when discussing international politics or the nuances of government—those parts she skipped after falling asleep twice in the midst of reading. The rest of it was much more interesting. The intrigues of the court, the strange edicts, even the occasional descriptions of petitions various Kings granted that led to great changes for the country. Under other circumstances, Belle might have been slightly bored, but there was nothing else to do. And the book wasn't too bad, really. She certainly learned a lot. Some of the court rituals confused her—maybe she could find a book or two on etiquette when she got better.

She saw nothing of her captor during those two days. It didn't particularly bother her, though she did not dread him dropping in again as she would have before the night with the wolves. Something had changed in the time between his rescue of her and his giving of the book—at least for her. Perhaps it was because she had finally seen him in a mood other than angry. He was clearly not all temper—she'd now seen him check it twice, first in the West Wing and then again in the parlor. He'd actually seemed awkward a few times. Unconsciously until now, she realized she was coming to accept that there was more to him than a lot of teeth and hair. He wasn't the animal she'd first thought, at least not totally. Now she had no idea what to make of him.

It was almost easier to simply think of him as a monster.

On the second day, Mrs. Potts allowed Belle out of bed. By that point, Belle herself was fully alert and ready for a distraction. She allowed Madame to dress her in a neat wool gown; this one was a subdued midnight blue with colorful flowers embroidered on the cuffs and hems. Belle liked the sleeves particularly. They dangled below her wrists a few inches and felt very medieval to her. This dress also fit her perfectly; no straining at the waist, which overall made her pregnancy less noticeable.

She complimented Madame on the choice, and the wardrobe actually flushed. "Really, it's nothing. Anything looks good on you, Belle, dear."

Belle doubted that, but she accepted the compliment without protest. She was too happy to be leaving her rooms at last. She went slowly but deliberately through the halls. Everywhere she went, servants smiled at her, or nodded, or expressed relief at her recovery. Belle automatically smiled and nodded back, until she realized what she was doing. She grinned ruefully. This was the same ritual enacted every morning in the village. Still, it couldn't hurt to be polite. At least, hopefully, no one here would be dreadfully insulted if she forgot to acknowledge them. Belle continued to smile and greet as she went.

She first made her way to the stables. Philippe had been worried about her—he whinnied enthusiastically when he saw her coming. Belle hugged his big nose.

"I missed you too, boy. How are you?" She conducted a thorough examination of her horse. She was happy to see someone had tended his minor cuts and bruises while she convalesced, so that he was nearly healed.

"Come on. We'll go for a little walk," she said. She put a fine leather halter on him; no bridle, since she didn't intend to ride. Philippe sighed, and Belle laughed and hugged him again.

"We'll ride some other time. Before I get too big to mount, that is," she added with a sigh of her own. Philippe just eyed her. "Never mind. Let's not think about that," she said, and led him out.

They strolled slowly through the snow of the gardens until Belle felt tired. She leaned on Philippe on the way back, and once inside the castle did not even look at the stairs. Instead, she made her way to the front parlor and collapsed on a couch. Tucking her stocking feet under her skirt, she fell asleep instantly.

When she awoke, a fire was burning in the hearth and a warm blanket had been tucked around her. The moment she moved, Lumière appeared in the doorway.

"Ah, there you are, chérie! We decided not to disturb you, so we did what we could to make you comfortable."

"Thank you," said Belle, stretching stiff muscles.

"Perhaps a bite to eat?" asked Lumière eagerly.

Belle considered. "Maybe later. I think I'll just sit here and enjoy the fire for a little while."

"Very well," Lumière replied with a bow. He left.

Belle rested back against the couch. She didn't drift off again, but was just content to sit and watch the flames dancing in the fireplace.

A grunt of surprise at the door made her whirl. The Master stood in the doorway.

"I didn't—you—I had no idea you were out of your room. In here," he stammered.

Belle almost laughed at the expression on his face. He really was genuinely surprised, and she thought she read some dismay there as well. "I'll go if you'd rather be alone," she offered.

He eyed her. Now his expression was impossible to read. She started to get up, taking his silence as affirmative, but then he waved a paw at her. "No. Stay. I'm just not used to…to turning corners and finding you there."

Belle realized she was clutching the couch armrest and forced herself to relax. His appearance had frightened her more than she wanted to admit. And it was hard not to eye his teeth and claws without some nerves. She took a slow, steadying breath.

They looked at one another awkwardly for a few more seconds. Then he swept his tattered cloak around to go.

"Wait," Belle said, holding out her hand. "I did want to thank you again for the book."

"It did make you feel better, then?"

"I always feel better when I read," Belle said, smiling in spite of herself. "And the book was very…instructional. Truly. I never thought a history book would be that interesting."

"Really?" He took a step, almost involuntarily it seemed, towards her. "I never enjoyed history. It was always 'This King said that, did this, died hundreds of years ago…" He shrugged.

"You—" Belle halted herself. She had been about to say "You can read?" but realized how incredibly rude and condescending it would sound. He might be a creature, but he clearly had feelings. Who was she to judge whether it was unusual for someone to read or not? After all, she only read thanks to a father who was one of the few peasants that believed a woman should, or could, read.

She cleared her throat. "What did you like?"

He looked as baffled as he had when she'd asked about his favorite book, and made a questioning noise deep in his throat.

"I meant, if you didn't like history, was there a subject you did enjoy? Literature, philosophy, natural science…?"

"Oh." He shrugged again, an interesting sight on so massive a creature. "I never really thought about it that way. I just learned them because I had to. And then…" he swallowed. "It stopped mattering."

She had no idea what to make of that. She even had a hard time believing there had been someone out there to make him learn anything.

"Oh," she said, uncertainly.

Mrs. Potts appeared behind her Master on a rolling tray of sandwiches. "Are either of you hungry?" she asked.

"Yes, I believe I am. Thank you, Mrs. Potts," Belle answered.

The teapot's Master glanced between them, then at the sandwiches. "No," he said abruptly, and stepped around the cart to leave.

"Wait," Belle called after him again. He only turned halfway, so that all she could see was one blue eye.

"What is your name?" she asked. "I just realized I have no idea what to call you."

Mrs. Potts looked up at her Master, china eyebrows very high. He, however, did not even glance at her. Instead, he turned away. "You can just call me 'the Beast,'" he said, so low she almost missed it. He was gone before she could reply.

Mrs. Potts sighed, and served the sandwiches.

Belle hadn't realized it at the time, but that was the beginning of a ritual as she continued to recover. She would wake up, dress, and take Philippe for a walk. Then she would return to the castle to nap in the parlor. As she grew stronger, the walks grew longer and the naps shorter.

When she woke, the Beast was usually there in the doorway. The first time, Belle—wondering as she did if she had taken leave of her senses—asked him to join her. After that, the invitation was unspoken. They rarely talked—that first conversation about schoolroom subjects had been their longest. But Belle slowly became used to his presence, and he to hers. She grew less and less tense, even at first seeing him, until, incredible as it seemed, she hardly noticed his claws and fangs. She spoke to him as she did to anyone in the village, or to any of the servants. She couldn't say she got to know him any better, but at least she no longer jumped if she happened to glimpse him in the halls.

He never ate with her. Always, he left the room as Mrs. Potts brought in lunch.

She also got the sense, every time he left, that there was something he'd wanted to say and hadn't.

Finally, a week into this, Belle reached the point where she didn't need a nap after her walk. In fact, she was standing, admiring an oceanscape painting, when the Beast came in.

She turned when she heard the scrape of his claws. He'd entered walking upright, she vaguely noticed; usually when she saw him he was on all fours. She watched his eyes go to her usual spot on the couch, around the room, and then to her. More specifically, to her stomach.

Belle looked down. Her dress was green today—dark green in the bodice, and lighter in the sleeves and skirt. It brought out her eyes, Madame had said. Belle now saw it brought out something else. Or rather, something else was simply more obvious. She was well into her third month of pregnancy now, and while she didn't feel any different, the bump was ever so slightly more noticeable. She still could have hidden it, had she really wished, but now that everyone in the castle knew her state she had felt it no longer mattered. Apparently she had been wrong.

She looked back up in time to see the Beast open his mouth, and close it again.

Belle held her ground. "Is something wrong?"

He blinked. "I—no. It's just…I've been wanting to…no. Never mind."

"What is it?" Belle asked curiously. She sensed she was not going to like whatever was coming next, but felt she at least owed it to him to hear him out. He had saved her life, after all, and her sense of honor told her she hadn't repaid him fully.

"Why is it you said I had no right to judge you when I didn't know what happened to you?" he asked in a rush. She could tell the words were rehearsed, however. "Mrs. Potts wouldn't say; she said it was your story to tell."

Belle felt very cold. She should have seen this coming. He couldn't help but wonder, if he'd stopped to think about her outburst in the West Wing. Clearly he had.

"I only meant—" she started, meaning to disclaim her words, and stopped. She owed him the compete truth, no matter how painful for her. No matter if he condemned her afterwards. Just because his servants had not didn't mean the Beast would react the same.

She swallowed, and controlled her shakes. "A man from my village raped me," she said in the calmest voice she could manage. Seeing he still didn't understand, she explained, "He forced himself on me. He…he wanted to marry me; I refused him too many times. He grew—impatient. He thought I was taunting him; leading him on—" She stopped. Any more, and the words would never end. All the anger, the despair, the fear, would all pool out of her to puddle on the floor. She slammed the floodgates before that could happen. Now she did feel herself start to tremble as she thought about that night again, but for the first time in awhile she did not try to hide it.

She hazarded a glance at his face. He looked genuinely shocked. To her relief, there was no pity in his eyes. Only a small spark of outrage, and she knew it was not directed at her.

"I never imagined…" he finally managed. "Why was such a thing not punished?"

"Punished?" Belle repeated bitterly. "No. If word had gotten out, especially had it become known I conceived, I would be married to the man who violated me in a heartbeat. To preserve my honor, and shield me and the child from the shame. For our own good. Even if I fought that tradition, it would come down to his word against mine. And you yourself were more willing to believe I was a whore than the alternative."

He paced backwards as if she'd hit him. "That's not fair!" he protested, sounding like a child despite his bass growl. "I never dreamed—it never occurred to me—"

"Very well," Belle agreed. "Perhaps it was unfair of me to say. My point is that you judged me first, without thinking. That was what made me so angry."

He could hardly look at her. "I'm sorry…"

"Now you know." Belle was upset enough not to worry about being polite for once. Chin high, she walked past him through the door. She paused in front of him, met his eyes. The look in them deflated her anger slightly. She'd shaken him to the core.

"You are free to judge," she said quietly. Then she went out, leaving him to stare at her retreating back. She didn't go to her room; Madame would fuss if she realized how agitated Belle was. Instead, she wandered the castle aimlessly until she found a deserted room with at least one couch in it. Then she flung herself down on the couch and sobbed as she had never allowed herself to do before.

She wasn't even exactly sure why she was crying. Afterward, had she been asked, she would have used a phrase very familiar to every member of the household, from pageboy to prince: "It's not fair."

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 15 of 33

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