The view from the balcony was quite lovely. The enchanted objects had done such a wonderful job of making the yard so presentable. Even in the dark of the night it was easy to tell how much nicer it looked. But of course that wasn't all that looked nice this evening. The dinner had been delicious and looked nothing less of pure gourmet, the dance had been lovely.... Now the Beast and Taylor were walking across the balcony and over to the banister. It wasn't too high so they could just lean on it and take in the view; it was just low enough for them to sit on and make themselves comfortable. Around the banister were a few pots of perfectly trimmed branches with tiny flowers on them. If anything they only added to how nice everything looked. The Beast took Taylor over to it and helped her sit down. He looked away and rubbed the back of his head for a moment, attempting to figure out his next approach. In the meantime, Taylor slightly adjusted her gown so it lay nice against the banister and appeared less wrinkled. But even as she looked away she had a smile on her face. She turned her head and glanced at the Beast only briefly taking in his nervousness. Able to suppress a giggle, she looked away once more and pretended to fix her gown a bit more. The Beast looked at her when she looked away and then he slowly but cautiously scooted over so he filled most of the space. He dragged his hind legs across the cemented ground and put his weight on his hands so he wouldn't make a sound as he moved in closer.
Finally, when he was right beside Taylor and she turned back to face him, the Beast took her hands in his paws. "Taylor..." he almost hesitated to ask, but now that he opened his mouth he couldn't exactly close it again. He wanted to make sure it came out just right. "Are you...happy here with me?"
Much to his surprise, the smile remained on Taylor's face as she answered him. "Yes. I am," she admitted.
The Beast smiled warmly. He would have never expected that. In what felt like so little time everything had been completely turned around. It just couldn't have gotten any better than this. Maybe Zeke was right. Maybe the Beast really could confess his love for Taylor then the spell would be broken. And then they could live happily ever after. His smile slowly faded as he turned back to Taylor, taking in notice of her looking out into the distance and all around as though she were looking for something.
"What's the matter?" he wondered.
Taylor slowly turned her head back to him. She didn't want to be a downer or anything, and she knew for sure it would ruin the amazing night they were having. And the last thing she wanted the Beast to think was that she didn't love it at the castle. She had grown to love it there, actually. Everyone was so welcoming and the Beast had become some one who she greatly enjoyed spending time with. But there was just still something troubling her. And Taylor was never one to keep things bottled up. Not like this. It was one thing trying to hide her emotions when she didn't want them seen, but this was a case in which she really needed to get what she was thinking off her chest. The castle was great and all, but there was just something missing.
Certain that the Beast would understand her, she decided to tell him. "I just wish that I could see my brother one more time. I really miss him."
Her brother? Oh right! Shoot, how could he be so heartless? That was the guy the Beast threw out of the castle and released in exchanged for Taylor's imprisonment. He recalled how they were in the dungeon just before he had made the agreement with Taylor. They looked so close. And then the Beast had to go and take it away so Taylor could never leave the castle, meaning she could never see her brother again. This was her family they were talking about. He should have known better than that. The Beast had told the carriage to take Troy back to the village when he threw him out, so that was probably where Troy was. But supposedly there was no guarantee. He looked back at Taylor and saw that thinking about it just made her depressed. He really didn't want to see her like that. He didn't want to cause sadness for her. Not anymore. There had to be a way to put a smile on her face. He thought it over for a minute, trying to figure out what to do to help.
Then, a smile came across his face. "There is a way," he told Taylor, helping her off the banister.
Taylor picked her head up and looked at the Beast with a perplexed look. "How?"
"Follow me," he said gently.
The Beast led her off the balcony, back through the ballroom, and up the stairs towards the West Wing. Taylor didn't even pay attention to how much different the West Wing looked than her last visit. If anything was going on in her mind she was confused at how the Beast could help her find her brother. Taking note at where they ended up, Taylor stopped when the Beast let go of her hand. They were now in front of the table where the wilting rose was. But she didn't pay any attention to that either. She was watching as the Beast lifted up the mirror that had been resting face down on the table.
"It's an enchanted mirror," he explained. Of course, because everything in the castle was enchanted. "It'll show you anything you want to see. Anything at all. You just have to tell it what you want."
Taylor slowly took the mirror as he handed it to her. She highly doubted it could help, but what harm could it do? She looked at her reflection in it before saying what she wanted to see. "I'd like to see my brother Troy. Please?" she told it.
Within moments, Troy's picture did indeed appear in the mirror. But he wasn't where Taylor expected him to be. She thought he would be safe in the village. Maybe sleeping on one of the chairs or in his bed at home. Maybe even working on another one of his inventions. But he wasn't anywhere near the house. He wasn't even in the village. To say it shocked Taylor would be an understatement. Troy was wandering through the woods. No horse. No companion. Barely any protection. Not even a jacket. He was fighting through a very light blizzard. Aside from the trees and dead plates of grass the entire land around him was baron. The trees' naked branches looked like they could fall off at any second. A few coughs escaped Troy; he then lost his balance and fell head first into a small pile of snow. He picked up his head and covered his mouth with more coughs. Taylor's eyes widened in horror at the sight. How could something like this happen to him?
"Oh no..." she gasped shaking her head. Part of her was still in disbelief. That couldn't be Troy out there battling the wilderness and suffering as he was. It could have been someone else's brother. Anyone else's brother. But it wasn't; it was hers. She looked at the Beast and saw his concerned look. Taylor knew what she had to do. It was of the utmost importance that she went after Troy. She had to go and find him. As much as she was enjoying her time here at the castle she just couldn't lose her brother.
"Troy's out there," she explained. "He's out there by himself in the woods. He's sick. It could be the flu or pneumonia, maybe even worse."
The Beast took one look at Taylor's expression. He saw nothing but worry. She was practically giving him the puppy dog eyes that she had to do something about it. The Beast just couldn't stand to look at her. Not like that. And he didn't want her seeing his face either. He turned to look at the rose. It was wilting fast and barely had any life to it. It wouldn't be long before the last petal fell. The Beast didn't know how long. It could be as long as a few days or as short as a few hours. But there was no way it could last much longer. It had blossomed for so long but then it began to wilt so quickly. It was out to destroy him, he knew it. But the Beast knew the consequences. He desperately wanted to be human again. And when he thought about it, it wouldn't just help him but also the entire castle. Everyone in it would be human again. All he had to do was confess his feelings and hope that they were returned. That was what tonight was all about. That's why everyone was so excited. And the Beast was letting them all down. He was letting himself down.
Then again, what good would it do to keep Taylor here? She would be worried sick about him. She wouldn't be happy. If it was only for a brief second when she told him that she was happy there, the Beast knew he saw her eyes light up. And to know that he made that happen was a good feeling. The best feeling he's ever felt in a long time to know he made someone happy. But that was all over now. There was no light in those eyes. Only clouds of doubt and concern. And it would only get worse if she stayed. The Beast stroked the rose's container and took a good look at the now red - no, maybe some kind of fuchsia - rose. The light was fading and so was its color. With every fallen petal the status of the plant grew worse. Their chances would only grow dimmer. But as selfish as the Beast used to be, that he knew he used to be, and as much as he knew that everyone needed this, he just couldn't go through with it. Some things were more important. It didn't matter if after this Taylor never saw him again. But for the sake of her brother and herself, the Beast knew what had to be done. No matter how much it hurt.
"Then you should go find him," the Beast finally spoke, doing everything he could not to sound hesitant.
Taylor raised an eyebrow, wondering if she had heard him correctly. "What did you say?"
"I'm letting you go," he replied, his back still turned to her, "you're not my prisoner anymore."
"I'm not?" she blinked. "So you mean...I can go? ...I'm free?"
The Beast had no clue why she spoke with a hesitance herself, but he wasn't about to question. "Yes. You can leave here. You go help your brother. Get him back to the village safely."
Taylor couldn't describe the gratitude she was feeling right now. "Thank you. Thank you so much." she told him.
"You're welcome," he replied simply.
"Not just for letting me go," Taylor shook her head, which caused the Beast to slowly turn back to face her. "For letting him go, for saving me, for not treating me like a prisoner...everything."
Thinking back on it all, she was right. Perhaps the Beast had been kinder than he ever anticipated himself to be. He had let Taylor stay in exchange to set Troy free. He had gone after her after she ran off and saved her from being the wolf's midnight snack and got hurt trying to protect her. He had not only let her stay in her own room but gave her rules to live by like anyone would in their household, he gave her what was his library for her own pleasure, he had shown her such a good time when they spent more time together, he gave her that lovely night they just had... And now he was setting her free to save Troy.
Taylor turned to head out of the West Wing, still holding the mirror and watching her brother. "Hang in there a little longer, Troy. I'm coming," she promised. Then realizing she was still holding the mirror, she walked back in and brought it over to the Beast. After all it wasn't hers to take. She was done using it and she had at least a faint idea of where to find her brother. Standing in front of the Beast once more, she held it out to him.
The Beast shook his head and gently pushed the mirror back towards her. "You keep it."
"Why?" Taylor wondered, keeping her voice soft. It wasn't exactly easy for her to leave right now but she knew she had to. And it matched just the way the Beast was speaking, for whatever reason.
"It's so you'll always have a memory of this place. And so you can remember me," he answered only briefly stroking her hair, knowing he would never get another chance to feel it again.
Taylor looked at the mirror, then back at the Beast. She held it close to her, knowing that she'd always have to treasure it. "And thank you for understanding," she added, giving him a sympathetic look. But maybe, just maybe she could come back one day and they could see each other again. She saw the Beast's crestfallen look and briefly stroked his cheek just as he did with her hair. And it felt nice. It was nowhere as fierce as she remembered it from the first day. And she really hoped he knew that one day she would be back. Giving him one last look in the eyes, Taylor slowly turned on her heel and left the West Wing.
The Beast held in a sigh as he turned back to the rose. He leaned forward onto the table, his paws on the sturdy stand. He just couldn't stand to watch her leave. Despite what she may have thought, they wouldn't have another meeting.
"Well well well..." Jason chuckled as he walked into the West Wing only just after Taylor left.
Where did he even come from? Why did Jason pick now of all times to bother the master? Oh well, what did it matter? It was just Jason being his usual goofy self. The Beast didn't care if Jason walked in two minutes earlier than he had. It wouldn't change anything. As far as he was considered, as depressed - no, more than that...heartbroken - as the Beast was right now, Jason could waltz in whenever he desired and be as happy as he liked.
"It looks like everything was going perfectly," Jason continued as he walked in and over to his master. "I gotta say, sir, you really do have it in you. And Zeke said this didn't have a chance at working out." Which was not true, by the way. "Oh I can only imagine what the next plan is on the list. Are you going to a more romantic like area for the big finale? Are you going to meet her in her room and help her pick an outfit out for the tomorrow so you two can celebrate? Oh I bet you're feeling so overjoyed and happy and la-dee-da-da and on cloud nine with a one way train ticket to happy town right now..."
"I let her go," the Beast sighed, only barely interrupting Jason and not even caring for all the things going on in the clock's head right now.
"Oh yes, how wonderful! Oh that's wonderful news. It makes me feel all smart and mushy inside," Jason cheered, "you have no idea how excited we all are..." In a split second, Jason stopped in mid-sentence and his face fell. His arms dropped and the hands on his clock face both suddenly dropped to face down towards the six, as well as his mouth dropping wide open. Wait a minute...something wasn't right here. The master didn't say what he thought he said, did he? Jason chuckled nervously and pointed up at the Beast. "That's funny, sir...for a second there I thought you said you let her go."
"I did," the Beast replied in the same quiet voice he'd been speaking in the whole time.
"But...but...but..." Jason stammered sounding like a broken record, "...how could you do that?"
"I had to." he answered simply."
"But...but...but..." Again with the broken Jason record. "... But why?"
"Because..." No, the Beast wasn't sounding like a broken record. And he wasn't about to play a game with Jason, which he knew would happen. The Beast was nowhere in the mood for games right now, no matter how much it would lighten the mood. The Beast thought about all the reasons why he should have and did let Taylor go. It wasn't just because her brother was out there in such a dangerous place and was practically begging for help. It wasn't just because Taylor was worried for her brother's health and safety. and it wasn't just because the Beast understood why Taylor had to go.
And then he just thought about Taylor. He thought about how much closer they had gotten since she arrived, and especially since the wolf incident. If it weren't for that, maybe they wouldn't even be where they almost were tonight. He thought about the times he had shared with her during her imprisonment...no, her stay. She wasn't just a beautiful girl with brains. She was caring; Taylor was the one who helped healed the Beast's arm when he got hurt protecting her. She was respected; she knew when she owed someone and the Beast could see that, which was one of the reasons why he had gained so much respect for the girl. She was stubborn; Taylor was never one to agree so easily or change her opinions...hey, look at how long it took her to change her opinion of the Beast...but it was a quality that matched exactly what the Beast had. She was headstrong, gentle, light on her feet, an excellent reading teacher.... Thinking of all that, the Beast could only think of the one reason he had let her go. It wasn't because of anything else. Everything else was just one of the mere reasons to let Taylor go. But this was the reason that topped them off, and the real reason that he didn't keep her in the castle. the Beast wanted what was best for her, and he wanted her to be happy. When her brother was out there risking possible death there was no way even the Beast could make Taylor happy. There was only one reason she was set free.
"Because... I love her."
"He did WHAT?"
Jason looked at Zeke, Gabriella, Tiara, and Donny with regret. His face was completely crestfallen. Well, not as much so as the Beast's, but still down. He then looked down and nodded, his hands behind his back. "Yesh." And when Jason spoke like that, it was bad. For once he wasn't completely clueless. Why did he pick now of all times to not be clueless and forget about trying to lighten the mood?
"You don't mean...?" Tiara gasped, in as just as much shock as the others.
"I'm afraid it's true," Jason nodded, lightly lifting one of his legs as though he were kicking something just from sorrow.
Donny shook his head and looked at Jason. "You mean she's going away?" he complained. "But I liked her."
"And we were so close, too," Zeke couldn't help but moan. "Did he say why he let her go?"
"Nope," Jason's head lowered more.
"And he was so close, too," Zeke had to moan again. Just a few more minutes and everything would have been perfect again.
Gabriella shook her head and her usually delightful, vivid expression was gone. "It took him so long. But after all this time, he's finally learned to love."
Zeke's face lit up at an instant. "That's it, then! Gabriella you're a genius!"
"What are you talking about?" Gabriella sighed.
"You said it yourself. The master has learned to love again. That should break the spell!" he exclaimed.
"But it's not enough," Gabriella replied.
"What do you mean?" Tiara asked, automatically taking Zeke's side. "Why shouldn't it be? Love is always enough."
"Not this time. She has to love him in return," Gabriella explained.
"But it's too late now ishn't it?" Jason guessed.
"Please stop talking in that depressing tone," Zeke begged. "Now I'm getting depressed."
"But you were so happy a moment ago," Tiara stated. "Before a big teapot opened her big mouth."
"This is no time to argue," Zeke shook his head. "We can't let that get the better of us now. we have to try and be strong for the Master's sake. Be as positive as we can. Even if it is too late."
Donny looked around at his friends. When none of them were paying attention, he slowly hopped over towards the doorway. They were letting the depression get the better of them already. Even Donny could see it. And he didn't want to join them in club misery. There had to be a way to fix everything. Things had to work out in the end. Donny wanted to know why this was happening and how it could be turned around. And really, he didn't want to be brought down by all of this either. Now hopefully no one would notice him sneak off...
"Donny where are you going?"
Donny turned to Gabriella. "Um...the bathroom." he lied. "I wanna put on some clothes."
"Oh. Alright. Have fun," Gabriella sighed.
Zeke blinked and looked at his friend. "You're letting him put on clothes? Teacups don't wear clothes!"
"We can't bring Donny down with all this. We have to stay positive for him, too. For everyone in the castle," Gabriella told him. "We have to let them believe that everything will be alright in the end. Let them dream about being human again."
"Well...I suppose you are right," Zeke admitted.
But Donny hadn't heard a single thing they said. He was already gone.
And moments later, he wasn't the only one who had disappeared. Taylor let herself on Jimmie and as soon as the gates were open, she raced out on the Shetland and into the woods. The Beast watched from the balcony on the West Wing as she rode off. His last chance at being human was gone. Even if everyone else in the castle wanted to believe it, he couldn't. He knew it wasn't true. And as much as the Beast had changed, he wasn't changed enough to sit around and cry. Mope maybe, but not cry. What he would have done weeks ago was make a mad rampage around the West Wing and knock down everything in sight. He'd claw at the walls and tear down the wallpaper. He'd yell and scream and just take his anger out on anyone and anything he could. But the Beast wasn't about to do any of those things. Not now. He didn't want to go back to being that way. He liked who he had started to become. It was a much better person...heck, he almost started to feel like a person. But that feeling he had was gone. He didn't feel like a person anymore. He didn't feel like there would ever be another chance of him being a human again. He didn't feel happy and warm inside. He didn't even feel like smiling. And even if by some miracle, if another girl happened to come into the castle and had a shot at breaking the spell it would never work in time. Not just because there wouldn't be enough time to try and convince another girl to love him or make that strong bond that the Beast had started to feel with Taylor. It would never work because if another girl ever did come in then the Beast would never love her. And so at a time like this, there was only one thing the Beast could think of to do.
He let out a loud and powerful roar. One that hadn't escaped him in what felt like so long. And that would probably be the last thing of him that Taylor would ever remember.