Never Easy, But We Try
A/N: This is just a little fic about Maurice and the Prince bonding that I couldn’t get out of my head. Enjoy friends, and happy weekend!
The trip to Paris is not entirely a smooth one, through patchy forests and muddy, uneven terrain after a heavy rainstorm the night before. Still, from his view, the rain is far preferable to eternal snow. Unexpectedly, the wheels slam against yet another tree root that feels like a brick wall, sending the carriage and its passengers jostling–and nearly sending his stomach flying right out of his throat.
He moves to tighten his hold on the person next to him, who miraculously has managed to stay asleep through their entire morning ride. Belle’s head bobs up and down with the rhythm of the carriage, before falling, her weight nestled once more against the nook of his shoulder. Not that he’s complaining.
He studies what he can of her serene profile, familiarizing himself yet again with the gentle curve of her jaw, the graceful slope of her forehead with those little valley lines that can only mean she’s deep in thought, even in her dreams. Out of some strange yet familiar, domestic habit, his fingers quickly sweep away that troublesome patch of hair out of her eyes, revealing her appealing little nose. He hadn’t thought noses could be appealing (generally speaking, they’re not the most attractive body part); but honestly, everything about her is alluring to him that he can’t stop himself from reveling in her quaint little nose. Regal–that’s what his fellow nobles at Versailles would call it. She has a regal nose.
As if judgement of a person’s station were solely dependent on outward appearance.
He swallows, feeling a knot tighten within his chest.
There was a time when his view of the world comprised exactly that notion.
“Well,” Maurice huffs from the seat across from him, graciously pulling him from his thoughts, as the carriage settles back into a somewhat easy ebb and flow. “I haven’t had quite this much fun on a long journey since the night I stumbled upon your castle in the woods.”
“What are rocks compared to ravenous wolves?” he quips, before he can stop himself. He almost winces at his tone. Oh, he’s in fine form already. If he can’t even go half-a-day’s journey without uttering some derisive remark, how does he expect to resume the social graces required of him in Paris? All this time closed off from the outside world may have merely distorted his coarse behavior.
But Maurice chuckles heartily, seemingly oblivious to his impropriety. “Just so.”
When he finally manages to tear his gaze away from Belle, he notices the calm, mischievous twinkle in his father-in-law’s eyes; and it’s a familiar, knowing look, one that tells him Maurice knows exactly what he’s said but doesn’t seem to mind–it’s a look that Belle seems to have inherited and perfected as a means of disarming him as well.
He clears his throat, trying to recover his manners. He’s unsure why he still feels the need to act so formally around Maurice. Perhaps it has something to do with feeling both like a host and a child in his company. “I’m glad you could join us, Maurice.”
Maurice smiles kindly. “Thank you for inviting me along. I haven’t been to Paris since…” His smile fades, and the carriage falls into solemn silence for a moment.
He clears his throat again, unexpectedly even more unsure than before. “I’m sorry. Belle told me…well, that is…”
“Oh, I know about your little magical excursion.”
As Maurice raises a single, paternal eyebrow, he shuffles in his seat nervously. “Ah. Of course.”
They’re silent for a bit once more, until he remembers where his thoughts had been leading him. “I am…truly sorry. I can’t imagine leaving…the woman you love…” He glances back at Belle, suddenly overwhelmed at even the idea of having to leave her behind, to save a child that doesn’t exist yet. What an impossible choice.
Belle also seems to have inherited from her father the ability to read his thoughts so easily. “It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make,” says Maurice. And when he glances back up at the older man, Maurice’s gaze is fixed upon his daughter, his eyes a bit greyer, carrying some secret horror he cannot name. “But I…I couldn’t leave my baby girl to die. She came first. She always has.”
He has no idea what to say to that, except his heart positively rings with the truth of his father-in-law’s words.
“And besides, if I’d stayed, who knows…I might have ended up alone.”
He understands what that’s like. Had Maurice made a different, easier choice…who knows where any of them would be. Belle’s life has touched so many others. Perhaps it’s a selfish perspective, but he feels that her very presence has changed him the most. And he can’t imagine…a world without Belle seems unlovable and unlivable. His kingdom for a choice, the choice of a simple yet honorable artist. And he wonders, not for the first time, if perhaps he misjudged his own father for depriving him of the chance to say goodbye to his mother. Maybe his father was protecting him more than he realized. Maybe that seeming act of cowardice was really the one good thing his father ever did with his life.
“Someday…when you have children, you will understand.”
He nods, though he’s not sure what he’s agreeing to. All he knows is he’s grateful in ways he doesn’t even know how to put into words. That ridiculously expensive education, and all he can come up with is, “Thank you, Maurice.”
Maurice frowns, and the man looks so much like Belle that he can’t help but smile a little. “Whatever for, my boy?”
He swallows. My boy. His remembers his own father calling him many things throughout his life, but never that. For being a good person. For being the father figure I never had.
Yet he simply settles for, “For saving her life.” And saving mine. “For welcoming me into your family after…” After everything I put you through.
He sighs, the guilt of years past creeping up on him again. “I’m sorry,” he finally utters quietly.
Maurice frowns again, and he realizes with a start that he doesn’t see it. Maurice may be a wise father, but in many ways the man still carries the sweet innocence of a child. And once again, he finds himself involuntarily dreading introducing Belle and her father to the aristocracy he’s socially bound to reenter. He knows what they’ll think of their marriage, what they’ll think of Maurice. If Belle thought one small village could hold so much prejudice… It seems wrong, somehow, to bring Maurice back to a place filled with so much hypocrisy. He feels he’s finally beginning to understand why Belle has been so protective of him all her life.
“I’m sorry for the way I treated you when we first met. I was a fool and…a great deal many other vulgar, unmentionable qualities.” Qualities they’re all going to have to experience again tenfold.
Maurice smiles, ever the patient soul. “You know, one day, you’re going to have to stop apologizing. It’s all been forgiven, my boy. It’s in the past. Besides, you’ve more than made it up to me by making my little girl so happy. Just treat her with all the goodness she deserves–as I know you will–and we’ll call it even.”
He’s reminded yet again, as he so often is, that Maurice is truly one of the best men he’s ever known. It’s obvious now why Belle grew into such a lovely person, with such a gracious figure to guide her and care for her. Maurice may not be gentry, but he possesses the natural generosity of a saint. Versailles doesn’t deserve him.
And neither does he, he thinks.
“You deserve all the happiness in the world,” says Maurice.
He starts. For a dreadful moment, he wonders if he’s uttered his thoughts aloud. Or perhaps it’s that mind-reading trick only Belle and Maurice seem to possess. Or it’s possible that it’s merely his own thoughts that have become so open, like a book to be read by the world. Stripped of his mountains of fur and devilish horns with claws to match, he no longer has a disguise to conceal himself beneath. And he’s severely out of practice hiding his feelings.
Still, he knows when to accept kindness offered at face value.
The men share a smile, until Belle suddenly stirs, lifting her head from her slumber. Immediately, his eyes find hers as she wakes.
“Oh, forgive me.” She sits up quickly.
He smiles, sweeping a bit of hair out of her face once more. “There’s nothing to forgive,” he answers quietly, just for her, Maurice partly forgotten for a moment. He knows how much she needed rest. She was up all evening before their departure, reorganizing the luggage system, while trying to manage the school accounts for Pierre Robert.
Her eyes go wide as she glances out the window. “The country!” she cries. “Oh, I’d hoped we’d be near the city by now.”
“It is a long journey.” He tries to soothe her by running his hand across her back, and she does him the decency of at least pretending to be comforted, leaning back into his embrace with ease.
“One that you insisted that we drive for whatever reason.” She shoots him the look.
“Well, it did give us a chance to talk,” Maurice chimes in.
“I see. And what exactly have you two been discussing while I’ve been asleep?” She glances between the two of them, before settling on her father across the aisle. “Nothing embarrassing, I hope, Papa?”
He has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing at her tone.
Maurice settles back into his seat with feigned innocence. “Me? Embarrass my daughter? I think not.”
Belle narrows her eyes before glancing back at him. “You would tell me if he said anything, wouldn’t you?”
He can’t help but tease her. “I believe in our vows we promised that we’d never lie to each other.”
She smacks his shoulder once.
“You are as bad as he is,” she remarks, wearing a firm frown, but he can spot the easy humor in her eyes that give her away.
“Thank you. I take that as a compliment.”