It starts like this: you are born in the spring. You are born laughing. It is the most beautiful sound your parents' have ever heard, and so they name you Belle.
You grow up in a small village. As a young child, this was the entire world, laying in your palm ripe for picking.
Fields of flowers and vast forests surround your home, and you see these as adventure, rather than prison.
It's a little lonely, but your parents are bright with joy and the house is full of love. You don't have much, but you're happy.
When you are seven, your mother dies, sick in bed and delirious with fever. It breaks you. It breaks your father.
He can't look at you, not when Belle looks so much like Estelle.
He turns to work, to inventions. You turn to books and fairy tales. As your father tinkers with machines in hopes they will help the world, you dream of fairies and princes and monsters.
There's a longing in your chest, deep and aching, that grows each time you look out your window. A whole world, out there. A whole world, and you're trapped here.
The townspeople aren't cruel. They don't understand, is all. They walk with their feet on the ground. You walk with your head in the clouds.
Where they carry baskets and bread, you carry books upon books upon books.
They mean well when they tell you that you'll never get a husband like that; you can't help but think you don't want a husband.
Gaston has taken it upon himself to take the books from your hands, the dreams from your head, and turn you into the perfect little wife. You make sure to slam the door on his fingers.
Some nights, when you can't sleep, you look out into the forest and wonder what hides in it. Logic tells you animals. Dreams tell you fairies and monsters and magic.
Those nights, the longing to run is so strong it scares you. You turn to old drawings of your mother, and try to fall asleep.
"Is there anything you want, Belle?" your father asks as he prepares to leave for the next village. "A rose," you say, "Just a rose."
You get your rose but you lose your father.
The castle is dark and looming, engulfing you in its shadow the moment you emerge from the forest. The stone is dark and cracked, the windows broken and dirty.
Towers stretch high into the sky and a grand staircase connects it to the ground. It looks like something from your fairy tales.
Fear has fled you; you are not the princess. You are the warrior. And nothing will keep you from saving your father.
"I will stay in his place," you say. You stare into the beast's eyes -- they glow in the darkness, a sickly yellow surrounding the cat slit of a pupil -- and refuse to back down.
The cell down is thrown open, and you only have time for a quick hug before your father is being carried away.
"I'll be alright," you call after him, "You taught me how to take care of myself, after all."
The wardrobe talks. As does the clock and the candelabra. Just like a fairy tale, you think, just like magic. It isn't as exciting as you thought it would be.
You've lost your father again, but at least you know he's safe.
You go to dinner. The beast hunches over itself, almost as though it is trying to hide from you. Perhaps, you think, it's not as dangerous as it appears.
"What is your name?" the beast asks. "Belle." "Beautiful?" You stare into its eyes and ask, "Do you disagree?" The beast looks away; not so scary after all.
Lumiere is loud and extravagant. He teases the beast and it storms off with a growl.
When they apologize to you for his behavior, you shrug; the beast yelled at you when you saved your father, of course it had a temper.
The candelabra takes you on a tour, introducing you to the kitchen staff and Cogsworth and all the other living furniture. It's magical.
"What's down there?" you ask, peering up the staircase. "Ah, that is the west wing. We use it for storage. Nothing interesting to see there! Come now," Lumiere says, "Let us keep going."
He looks nervous, and you've never been good and holding your curiosity back. There was something in the west wing, you're sure of it.
You bid Lumiere a quick goodnight, then head back to your room.
It's well past midnight and your wardrobe doesn't wake when you carefully step out of the room.
Though it's dark, the windows have no curtains and the moonlight drenches everything in a soft silver glow. The only place that's truly dark is the west wing.
Where the rest of the castle is abandoned and falling apart, the west wing is ruined and destroyed, testament to the beast's anger.
Cloth hangings are ripped into scraps that litter the ground, paintings broken and sharp pieces of glass are everywhere you look.
You continue down the hallway, despite the goosebumps raising on your arms.
The first thing you notice: the bed, large and fit for royalty, is destroyed. Fluff from the mattress covers the room.
The second thing you notice: the painting, partially covered by a curtain. When you pull it off, all you can see are the blue eyes of a young girl. The face has been slashed up.
The third thing you notice: the rose. It glows and floats in a glass case on a small table, the only thing that remains untouched by destruction.
Few petals lay on the tabletop, and you can't help but reach a hand towards it.
The beast howls and snarls. You run before the full force of your fear can hit you. Voices call out to you to stop, but you run outside to the snow before you can hear what they say.
The snow sticks to your feet but you push through.
You just want your father back.
When the wolves circle you where you've fallen in the snow, you close your eyes. Snarling fills the air, but all you can hear is your mother's voice, singing a lullaby to help you sleep.
The beast saves you. You can't save it. Blood stains the snow under the beast; your heart stutters in your chest and your throat tightens up and you think, 'I should have done more.'
Philipe, your father's trusted horse, emerges from the trees.
With his help, you're able to get the beast onto Philipe's back and you begin the trek back to the castle, a broken branch clutched in one fist, held tight enough that your fingers go numb.
You will not let anything hurt the beast again.
"I'm sorry," you murmur as you clean out the beast's wounds; they're only scratches, thankfully. Large, but shallow. "You shouldn't have run off," it growls.
A flash of annoyance hits you, and you snap, "I wouldn't have run if you didn't go on a rampage!" "You shouldn't have gone to the west wing!" the beast snaps back, then whimpers when you clean the wound a little too roughly.
"Sorry," you say again. The beast remains silent, looking into the fire Lumiere started. You bandage the wound with a large cloth and tie it tightly, then press a kiss to it.
"My parents always did it for me," you explain, unable to look the beast in the eye, "It always made me feel better."
"Thank you, Belle."
Something's changed between the two of you. The air in the castle is lighter, the sunshine a little brighter, the laughter a little louder.
The beast gives you a library; you give it story after story of fairy tales and your life in the village. It's nice. But you wish your father could be here too.
The beast, you realize, has been lonely for a long time. Terrified of itself, hating the world, and so, so terribly lonely. But underneath all that, it is kind and full of love.
"Would you-- I mean, I would like to ask-- I mean--" The beast stutters and slips over its words. It glances around, unable to meet your eyes and you can't help but break into a fond smile.
"Would you like to dance with me tonight?" the beast finally gets out, twisting its paws nervously. "I would love to," you say, and the beast lights up.
The wardrobe is excited, more than you are. Red, green, blue, purple; she goes through colors and fabrics, throwing dress after dress out of the closet.
You sit through it all patiently; you understand passion, and you refuse to take it away from anything that's already lost so much.
Finally, you are dressed in a golden dress, large and adorned with ribbons. The wardrobe wants something complex and fancy for your hair. You smile and pull your hair back as you always have.
You still take the offered bow.
The beast braided back its hair elegantly. It wears a deep blue suit with a white sash that hangs like a skirt around its waist.
You realize you don't know the beast's gender; you realize that you don't really care. The beast is beautiful either way. The fairy tale of your dreams.
"Come," the beast says, still smiling from the dance, "I want to show you something." It's not the rose. It's a mirror. "I know you miss your father. With this, you can see him."
You take the mirror. The reflection ripples, and there's your father, being thrown into a cage.
"Go," the beast says, "Go save your father."
You're thrown into the cage with your father. Gaston holds the mirror high and leads the townspeople to the castle. It's not over yet.
You pretend to sob, then beg the guard to tell you what's happening. When he comes close, you grab his shirt and pull him towards you. His head hits the bars and he slumps in your hold.
The grin on your face is savage as you take the key from his coat; they've gone after the wrong monster.
The ride through the forest on Phillipe has torn your dress and dirtied it with mud. You rip off the bottom of the dress; it's slowing you down too much.
You run from the town, Phillipe, your father: you have a beast to save.
Gaston falls to his death. The beast slips gently to its death. The last petal of the rose begins to fall.
You should have realized sooner: this is not a fairy tale. This is a tragedy.
"I love you," you whisper, forehead pressed against the beast as you cry. The night is quiet. So, so quiet.
And then: light.
m a g i c
The beast is gone. In its place is a beautiful woman with long golden hair and the bluest eyes you've ever seen. "Belle," she whispers, then steals your breath with a kiss.