Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 19 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

The Beast was walking down a corridor when he heard it. A woman's voice raised in song, echoing down the corridors.

"Lo, how a rose e'er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung…"

The voice was Belle's. The Beast had never heard her sing before, though he should have guessed she would have a lovely voice. Her speaking voice was very musical; he'd noticed this early on in their acquaintance. He stopped to listen. The tune was haunting enough, and the words made him chilly. He thought he recognized the song from his childhood, but he couldn't remember when, or who had been singing.

"…it came a flow'ret bright, amid the cold of winter when half-spent was the night..."

Slowly, the Beast padded forward, following the music. Another voice joined Belle's, and the Beast recognized Madame's operatic style. He had to admit they sounded good together, with Belle's slightly lower voice forming a pretty harmony while Madame sang the tune Belle had originally begun with.

"O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispel in glorious splendor the darkness everywhere…"

He rounded a corner to find a gathered audience. Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, Babette, and several other servants were clustered outside the door to Belle's room. Lumière had his eyes closed in rapture, and even Cogsworth seemed entranced. Most of the servants jumped when their Master appeared, but the Beast waved at them to relax. At least, that was what he intended the gesture to mean. Instead, most of the lesser staff scattered, presumably back to their tasks.

The Beast opened his mouth to call after them, then shut it. There was no point. Besides, it would let Belle and Madame know they had all been eavesdropping.

"I didn't mean for them to go," he whispered to Lumière, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and Cogsworth, who had stayed.

"It's all right, Master," Mrs. Potts whispered back. "We knew what you meant. They just don't know you as well as we do."

And they're frightened of me, the Beast thought bitterly.

"Why are we all whispering?" asked Cogsworth in a normal voice.

Belle poked her head out the door. She flushed a little. "Oh, hello. I didn't know everyone was here. I hope you weren't waiting for me?"

"Nice going, Cogsworth," Lumière said.

"Oh…ah," muttered Cogsworth, finally catching on.

"We were just…" Mrs. Potts began, but the Beast cut her off.

"We heard you and Madame singing, and came to listen. There's no harm in being honest with her," he added to Mrs. Potts. Turning back to Belle, he said, "Your song was very pretty. And you sing…nice." Lately he had been finding himself tongue-tied around Belle, especially when trying to compliment her.

"Thank you," answered Belle composedly. "I'll tell Madame you said so, if she's not listening."

"No need," came Madame's voice from behind her. "Thank you ever so much for the compliment, Master."

The Beast nodded curtly at her over Belle's shoulder. "What's that song called?"

"It's called 'Lo, How a Rose.' It's a wonderful old Christmas carol," said Belle before Madame could reply.

Christmas again! It had been nearly two weeks since Belle had first brought up the subject, and he had thought the matter was over. Apparently she hadn't given up, as he had hoped.

He snarled. Instead of stepping backwards, Belle met his gaze coolly. Snorting with frustration, the Beast whirled around and stalked back down the corridor towards the West Wing.

This was the disadvantage of not having people afraid of you, he decided grumpily as he went. They didn't automatically do what you said. Belle knew him too well by now; well enough to realize that no matter how annoyed he got, he would never actually harm her.

That was an interesting thought in itself. In the past, even in the years before he became a Beast, he hadn't particularly noticed or cared if he hurt anyone else. Something had happened to him, or more precisely had been happening to him, since Belle arrived. He thought about such things now; he even worried sometimes if he thought he'd said something to hurt Belle's feelings. It had come on so gradually that he had only just noticed he was doing it.

But it was true. Even the thought of harming Belle in any way, or her child for that matter, made him feel…well, he didn't like it. It didn't even bear considering.

He reached the West Wing, and couldn't stop himself from picking up the mirror.

"Show me the girl."

As usual, the mirror flashed, and cleared. Belle sat on her bed, chin dejectedly in the palm of one hand. The other hand rested on her stomach. Madame leaned over, taking up an entire side of the mirror's surface. Lumière and Cogsworth stood on Belle's night table, and Mrs. Potts and Chip were on the bed beside the girl.

"…why I bother," Belle was saying. "I've never met anyone who dislikes Christmas. I thought his mind could be changed, but…" She sighed.

"He has his reasons," Cogsworth said delicately. "I know I've said this before, but I will caution you again, mademoiselle. Yuletide is a very painful subject for the Master. It may be best to leave him alone. He has forbidden Christmas in the castle because he does not wish to be reminded of the past."

"And I've told you before, no one can forbid Christmas, not even him," Belle replied. "It comes every year whether we want it to or not. I don't see any point in pretending it doesn't."

"Unwind for once, Cogsworth," Lumière admonished. "I agree with the girl. We have to do something. Things cannot continue as they are."

"Yes, they can," muttered the Beast, though he knew none of them could hear him.

"Come on, love," encouraged Mrs. Potts, unaware of her Master's resentful comment. "Don't you remember how we used to celebrate Christmas? Decorations everywhere, enormous fires burning, the entire staff singing while they worked. Half the countryside would turn up for Christmas Mass and the feast afterwards."

"Ah, yes, the feast." Even Cogsworth appeared to have gotten nostalgic at this.

"We all used to be at our very best at Christmastime," sighed Mrs. Potts. "Not a frown on anyone's face, despite all the extra work."

"I wouldn't mind seeing that again," Lumière put in. He, too, sounded dreamy.

"So it's worth the effort," said Belle, as if summing everything up.

"Oh, I suppose," grumbled Cogsworth. "How do I get talked into these things?"

"So we really are going to have a Christmas this year?" asked Chip eagerly.

"Maybe," answered Belle. "We can't make any promises yet. There's still a lot to do before Christmas gets here."

"I can't wait! Let's get started." Chip bounced out of the room. Mrs. Potts shook her head at him and followed.

"It won't be as easy as the boy makes it sound, chérie, though I admire his enthusiasm," Lumière cautioned Belle.

"I know," Belle answered. "Persuading the Beast to even hear me out won't be easy. But I could use a little of Chip's enthusiasm." She smiled, oblivious of the teeth being bared in her direction from the other side of the castle. "Mrs. Potts' talk of fires burning reminded me of something. Do you think anyone would mind if I paid a visit to the boiler room today?"

"Of course not," Lumière assured her. "But what…" His voice faded as the Beast put the mirror down.

He knew of the time to which the servants had all been referring. Those were the years before his mother died. Then, he had looked forward to Christmas like any happy child. After the princess's execution, however, Christmas was only a reminder that she was not there. Things had worsened after his father's death. No one came to visit the castle and celebrate the season anymore. In fact, the few permanent visitors usually left to see their own families.

And then that fateful Christmas ten years ago. He had been all alone in the castle, but for the servants. It had begun as yet another holiday of painful memories, redeemed only briefly by receiving the traditional presents.

If only he'd accepted that one present that mattered. The rose. A choice that could not be revoked. A choice he'd relived as a nightmare for almost a full decade. Why would he want to bring the memory to full, waking life again by enacting all those agonizing Christmas rituals?

"Lo, how a rose e'er blooming…"

The Beast could not resist a look at the rose. Nine years, eleven months, sixteen days, it taunted him. In defiance of the song's words, it was wilting in earnest.

The Beast surged to his feet. He couldn't stand this. He had to find Belle, and talk her out of her ideas of celebrating Christmas. He'd have to make her understand, somehow, without revealing that the main reason he hated Christmas was that it was the anniversary of the magical curse on the castle.

Where had she said she was going in the mirror? "Do you think anyone would mind if I paid a visit to…"

"The boiler room," the Beast finished his memory aloud. Why was she going there? Unless it was to visit the boiler himself, bolted to the wall in one of the vast castle cellars. But the way she'd said it sounded like she had some other reason than a social call.

No matter. He'd find her there.

Down he stalked, into the bowels of the castle. He rarely came here; there was no particular reason unless something went seriously wrong with the castle heating. And even then he'd be more in the way than helpful. Still, it wasn't difficult to find the boiler room. He just had to follow the faint smoky scent emanating from its vast chamber.

The door was cracked, throwing rippling red light on the stone floor. The Beast pushed the door open further and peered inside.

One of the final improvements to the castle made by his father before his death had been the boiler. It was a new idea just imported from Germany: to have a series of metal pipes through the castle walls, attached to an enormous stove that was kept burning throughout the cold months. In this way the castle stayed much warmer than it had before the boiler. The cost had been enormous, and people whispered their ruler had finally lost his mind, but there was no denying it worked. And still worked to this day, though the head foreman had taken the place of the stove itself.

A great deal of the split wood for the castle was also kept in the boiler room. It was here, sorting through one of these vast piles of logs, that the Beast found Belle. He watched her for a few seconds. She seemed to be looking for something specific, picking up this log and that, critically examining them, then replacing them. At last, she found one that suited her. She smiled, stroking it happily. The Beast could see nothing that made this log better than all the rest. It was just a log.

He pushed open the door and went inside. Belle, startled at the door's creak, turned, and jumped when she saw him. "Oh!" She put a hand to her chest, nearly dropping the log. "You scared me." She waited a few moments, and when the Beast couldn't bring himself to do more than stare at her, she asked carefully, "Were you looking for me? Is something wrong?"

The Beast shook his head to clear it. When she turned to face him, he had been struck by how beautiful she was in the rosy light. Even obviously pregnant. In fact, the rounded curves only enhanced her beauty, at least for him. "No—nothing's wrong," he stammered. "What are you doing?"

"Oh." Belle looked guiltily at the log in her hand. "Nothing."

"What's so special about that log?" he demanded.

Belle heaved a sigh, as if bracing herself. "It's a Yule log."

The Beast wasn't sure what this meant, but there was that dreaded word 'Yule.' He could feel his lips start to curl.

"It's a peasant tradition. Do you know about it?" asked Belle.

The Beast had to admit he didn't. The question diffused his anger, at least for the moment.

"One special log is chosen each December for the Yule log. Some families have a specific kind of wood they always pick. On Christmas Eve, everyone in the household touches it and makes a wish."

"Hmph." The Beast snorted disdainfully. "Wishes are stupid." He'd been wishing for years, with no results.

"Really?" Belle tilted her head.

"Is this what you wished for last Christmas?" His gesture took in their entirety of their circumstances: the castle, his monstrous body, her pregnancy.

Belle looked down. "No. Of course not." Her head came up, and her chin was out stubbornly. "I've wished certain things hadn't happened, but wishing can't change the past. Wishing is for the future. It gives us something to hope and work for, that things will get better. That's the whole point of the Christmas season. And I plan keep on wishing, for the rest of my life."

The Beast stared at her. He'd never thought about wishing in terms of past and future. But Belle was right: wishing changed nothing about the past. He'd wasted many, many wishes that way. There were so many things about the past he longed to have been different. Most of the things in his life, in fact.

Had he ever bothered to wish for the future? Of course, in vague terms he'd wished for the nightmare of the curse to end, somehow. When he was a child, he'd wished his father paid him more attention. But he hadn't really thought to put things into a specific request, as seemed to be required by the Yule log tradition.

Belle hefted the log. "The Yule log is burned on Christmas morning. The fire isn't banked until—"

"Belle, please. Don't. I don't want Christmas here."

"Why not?"

"I'm cursed." The Beast bit back a gasp of horror. What had possessed him to say that? Something about the sad, compassionate way Belle was looking at him had inspired a mind-numbed moment of total honesty. Furiously wracking his brain, he added, "What I meant was, I feel cursed to a life of being alone. Christmas just reminds me of everything I'm missing. It always has." There. That was all completely true, even if it wasn't the whole truth.

Belle nodded. What she made of his little speech was impossible to say. "I understand how you feel now. Cogsworth has been trying to warn me, but I didn't listen to him. I was hoping that if I just showed you how wonderful Christmas can be, you might change your mind. I'm sorry to have caused you pain.

"But it doesn't change how I feel about Christmas, either. It's important to me. Maybe we can compromise?"

"Compromise?" the Beast repeated.

"Yes. We each give up something, and get something in return. How about, if you agree to let me have a small celebration on Christmas Day with the servants, then I'll agree to keep it all hidden from you. You won't even know it's going on. And I won't bring Christmas up around you again unless you ask. Does that work?"

"What do you give up?" he asked suspiciously.

"Oh, I had grand plans for decorating the whole castle and having a big feast for everyone," Belle admitted with a small smile. "But I can certainly live without those things."

The Beast considered. What was the harm in Belle having a Christmas, so long as he didn't have to see it? Especially if it really meant that much to her. "All right. I agree."

"Thank you!" Belle gripped his paw warmly in her hand. A strange tingle shot up his arm at her touch. Belle squeezed, and let go. The Beast defeated the urge to stroke his paw where she'd touched him.

Belle was still talking, oblivious to his fidgets. "You're welcome to come to the celebration too, if you change your mind. Christmas doesn't have to be lonely, if you choose."

The Beast sincerely doubted anything would change his mind, but sensed it would hurt Belle's feelings to say so. So he just shrugged awkwardly. Belle smiled again and left the room, still carrying her Yule log.

Would he ever understand her? He knew she hated to lose an argument; at least as much as he did, though she was better at hiding it. Once she'd set her mind to something, she did not take no for an answer. She'd sounded very determined in the mirror. Yet she had been willing to agree to not bother him about celebrating Christmas again, because she realized how much it upset him.

Belle kept her word. Over the next week the Beast did not notice anything different about the castle, despite the fact the he kept an eye out. The servants were visibly excited, but Belle had made no promises about their behavior, so the Beast tried to ignore it. Cogsworth, Lumière, and Mrs. Potts took turns trying to persuade him to join them at the Christmas celebration, if only to spend more time with Belle, but he would have none of it. What he couldn't understand was why the servants were taking Belle's side on this. They should have as many bad memories about Christmas as he did.

Less than a week before the dreaded day, the Beast was pacing the halls one evening, trying to ignore the happy murmurings of anticipation coming from all directions. His feet took him in the direction of the parlor. As he approached, he saw a flickering light that told him someone had lit a fire. Curious, he poked his head in.

Belle was curled up on the couch closest to the fire. She had a large leather-bound book propped on her bulging stomach, and was reading with great intensity. She looked so serious that the Beast thought she wouldn't notice him, but then she looked up as if she'd known he was there all along.

"Hello." She smiled peacefully.

"What are you reading?" the Beast asked, coming forward to join her on the couch.

Belle made room, looking a little nervous. "The Nativity story."

The unfamiliar word stirred in his memory. Something about spending a long time in the dark chapel, with candles everywhere, a priest reading something aloud, and everyone in their best clothes. And it was cold. "This is Christmas-related, isn't it?"

"It is," Belle admitted. "It's a fancy word for the Christmas story, when the Christ child was born. Remember the song Madame and I were singing last week? The song is about the Christ and Mary, his mother."

"I don't remember much about the story," the Beast said, in spite of himself. The mention of Christmas made him want to get up and leave, but he also didn't really want to move away from Belle.

Belle eyed him questioningly. Then she shrugged, and said, "I can read it to you, if you want."

The prospect of listening to Belle read aloud was too tempting to pass up—it never happened often enough in their time with Arthur and Guinevere. The Beast edged a little closer to indicate his agreement. Belle's eyebrows shot upwards. She opened her mouth, closed it again, and shrugged. Then she paged through the book until she found the one she wanted, and began to read.

The language was a little dryer than Arthur and Guinevere. If he had been reading himself, the Beast would have had a hard time concentrating. However, with Belle reading everything with the assurance of long habit, he could listen to the complicated sentences and still understand them without much trouble.

He had to admit he'd never paid much attention to this story when he was young. He remembered the woman having her baby in a stable, and the shepherds and the angels, and the wise men. The beginning of the story caught his attention. Mary, the baby's mother, was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph when it was discovered she was pregnant. Joseph had resolved to divorce her quietly because he didn't want to publically disgrace her when an angel appeared and told him to take Mary as his wife anyway. The angel even told him what name to give the baby when he was born.

"Wait," the Beast interrupted after Belle read this part. "So what does that mean for Joseph?"

"He does as the angel commands and takes Mary as his wife. He's named as the earthly father of the Christ Child in the Bible. That's in the part of this book I didn't read you because it's not very interesting; it's the list of the baby's ancestors. A lot of names I can't pronounce," Belle laughed.

The Beast laughed, too, but he had a hard time concentrating on the rest of the story. He was too busy thinking about Joseph. By agreeing to marry Mary, Joseph was also agreeing to be a father to her child, even though the child wasn't his. He thought he knew how Joseph must have felt: he wanted Mary to love him, and then to find out she was pregnant by somebody else must have felt like a blow to the stomach. And yet Joseph still obeyed the angel and became her child's father in everything but the physical sense.

Suddenly he realized Belle had gone quiet. She had an odd expression on her face, as if she were listening to something nobody else could hear.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"No," Belle answered slowly. "The baby's kicking."

"What? You can feel it?"

"I've been feeling it for a couple weeks. It's been getting stronger every time. Here." She seized his paw, spread the fingers, and placed it gently on the bump that was her child. "See if you can feel it too." Nervously, the Beast tried to extend the fingers of that paw so there was no chance of the claws scratching her. He felt silly, and terribly awkward. What if the one of the servants walked in on this? What would they think?

His sensitive pad detected a little flutter under his paw. "I think…" There it was again. "I think I can feel it." He withdrew his paw. "That's really…" He couldn't think of anything to describe it. His thoughts were scattered in every direction.

"It's late," said Belle abruptly. "I think I'll go to bed."

"I'll walk you there, if you don't mind."

"I don't mind."

They got up together and walked slowly to Belle's room. They said nothing to each other except "good night" right before Belle went inside.

The Beast went immediately to the West Wing, his thoughts still pinwheeling. He felt as though his brain were going to explode with everything that was going on inside it. The Christmas story he and Belle had just read, Christmas itself, Belle, her baby, his own surging hope…it was all too much. And the pin in the pinwheel was the moment he and Belle had just shared with the baby. He kept coming back to it. Something had happened between them all. He had no idea what to call it. He'd never felt this way before. It wasn't love, or he and the servants would be human right now. But it was something. A connection, for lack of a better word. 'Connection' would have to do for the moment.

Maybe Christmas really was the season for hope and wishes after all.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 19 of 33

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