A Change In Me

Chapter 16

The Beast could only watch as Belle walked down the staircase, the golden dress shimmering in the light. Never had he seen anything look so beautiful as Belle as she ran her hand delicately along the banister while descending the stairs to the first landing. His breath caught in his throat and he was too stunned to move. The shade of the dress perfectly set off her brown hair as it had never done for his mother. He noticed that much of her hair was loose, free to fall across bare, porcelain shoulders. She was a vision, an angel right there in front of him.

A waving flame beside him drew his attention to his left where Lumiere was eagerly motioning for him to move. All too aware now that he had been staring at Belle open mouthed, he cleared his throat and nervously adjusted his coat before descending the stairs to meet the beautiful angel, all the while praying he wouldn't trip.

As he drew level with Belle, he couldn't help but beam at her. She was so overwhelmingly beautiful, but as he looked into her eyes he knew this angel was still his Belle, his gentle, patient companion. She smiled up at him, her eyes dancing with evident joy and excitement and his heart soared. Knowing what was right to begin this formal evening, the Beast bowed to the beautiful woman and saw her curtsy elegantly in return, the folds of her dress glinting up at him.

They straightened, and the Beast offered her his arm to escort her down the remaining stairs to dinner. Sultan, that foolish footstool pup, ran up the steps to meet them and for a moment the Beast was worried the evening was ruined before it had begun. But Belle merely sidestepped it, never breaking contact with his arm, and returned her gaze to him with a dazzling smile.

The Beast escorted Belle to her seat at the end of a perfectly set, if a bit long, dining table and turned to his own seat at the opposite end. The table was too long to allow for comfortable conversation, but the Beast was far too nervous to talk much anyway. They ate their meal, the Beast careful to eat with his utensils successfully for the first time. He may have slurped a bit, but he didn't spill anything. Belle looked up from her own meal to smile at him, acknowledging his accomplishment.

The coat rack, the old butler, who had been playing violin for them in the corner of the room suddenly drew Belle's attention. She watched him for a moment before returning her gaze to the Beast and stood from her chair to make her way over to him. What's she doing? he thought as she approached him, her expression one of excitement. Quickly he wiped his face with his napkin, unsure of what Belle's intentions were but certain he did not want anything on his face.

"Dance with me?" she requested, her gloved hands held out to him.

"Oh. . .I don't. . .that is. . ." he stammered, but he saw Lumiere and Cogsworth wave him forward and he took Belle's outstretched hands nervously. He hadn't danced in years, and frankly wasn't that skilled at it even then. What if he trod on her foot? With his weight he would probably break her toes. But he allowed her hands to draw him out of his chair and he obligingly led her towards the ballroom.

She turned to face him and he felt his face grow hot, realizing that to dance with Belle meant to hold her in his arms. He started to panic, his hands shook uncontrollably, but Belle only smiled that beautiful, understanding smile of hers and directed him. She took one massive paw in her right hand and guided his other paw to wrap around her waist. He gulped as his paws made contact with the golden silk and Belle drew herself closer to place her left hand on the arm holding her waist.

She guided him through the first steps and the Beast concentrated on not stepping on her delicate feet, his tongue sticking out briefly at the corner of his mouth in his efforts. But it didn't take long before he grew comfortable with the steps and was able to look up from their feet. He was surprised to see Belle watching him, her warm gaze washing over him and dismissing his remaining nerves. His confidence growing, the Beast caught a better grip on Belle's hand and sent them whirling around the ballroom. He had great fun guiding them in circles, extending his arm to see Belle twirl, the full skirt following to wrap around her legs only to return to his arms.

The music slowed, allowing them both to catch their breath. The Beast couldn't help but gaze at Belle, overjoyed to have her in his arms, to be able to make her so happy. He smiled at her, unable to suppress his joy and was rewarded by her own brilliant smile, the special, blissful one she reserved for him.

He was caught by surprise, though, when Belle leaned forward and rested her head on his chest. He hoped she couldn't hear how fast his heart began beating as he led their steps and couldn't resist looking triumphantly up at Cogsworth and Lumiere. If Belle could be so comfortable as to perform such a tender act, then perhaps. . .

He dared not even think it and quickly returned his thoughts to the present where he held Belle blissfully in his arms. A few final twirls ended their dance and the Beast led Belle out the glass doors to the balcony. His heart began racing anew, knowing that this was the moment he was waiting for. Here, beneath the stars, was where he would finally confess all that was in his heart to Belle.

Belle's POV

Belle couldn't remember ever having a more wonderful night than the one she was sharing with the Beast. She new he was uncomfortable at first when she asked him to dance, but she couldn't resist, not with the knowledge that there was a ballroom just waiting for them. And, truthfully, a not-so-small piece of her wanted the feel of his arms around her. She couldn't help the tender thoughts of the Beast as they danced, silently remarking how delicately he held her, how beautiful his blue eyes were, and how safe she felt in his arms.

As the Beast led her out onto the balcony, she barely noticed the stars above them, finding it difficult to tear her eyes away from her Beast. Her beautiful, wonderful Beast who had done so much for her and yet had somehow taught her so much. She sat on the short wall of the balcony, suddenly shy in his presence and began fiddling with her skirt. The Beast joined her on the wall, but remained silent. She tried to think of something to say, a remark on the night perhaps, but nothing came to her.

"Belle?" the Beast began and slid closer to her, taking her hands in his paws. She smiled at him, relieved that he had broken the silence. "Are you happy here with me?"

She was a bit surprised at the directness of his question, but lost no time in replying. "Yes," she said easily. How could she be anything else with him? Except, she couldn't help but think of her father, alone in their cottage while she was here living in a dream.

"What is it?" the Beast's voice rumbled gently, filled with concern at her sudden silence. Belle was unwilling to ruin such an amazing night with her worry, but the Beast's eyes were filled with distress she couldn't help but tell him.

"If only I could see my father again, just for a moment. I miss him so much," she confessed sadly, knowing it was impossible.

"There is a way." Belle's head shot up at his words. What did he mean by that? Without a word, the Beast drew her up and led her to the West Wing. Belle spared a thought for how much the room had changed since her one and only visit, but was much more concerned with what the Beast had in mind concerning her father. He led her all the way to the glowing rose and held up a mirror that lay on the table beside it.

"This mirror will show you anything. Anything you wish to see," he said as he passed the beautifully ornate hand mirror to her. Belle glanced from him to the mirror uncertainly and raised it level with her face.

"I'd like to see my father, please," she said haltingly. For a moment, she only saw her own reflection, but then the mirror glowed with a green light, forcing her to close her eyes against its brightness for a moment. When she looked back, she saw the forest in the mirror's image and a figure stumbling through the trees.

"Papa! Oh, no!" she cried, watching him limp through the forest until he fell into one of the few remaining patches of snow, coughing weakly.

"What is it?" the Beast asked.

"He's sick! He may be dying and he's all alone!" she moaned helplessly. It tore her heart to see her father like that. But what could she do to help him?

Beast's POV

He watched as Belle's expression twisted to one of terror as the mirror showed her father. He knew it was destroying her to see her father in such a state and he realized what had to be done.

"Then y-you must go to him," he said, leaning on the table that held the glowing rose. There were so few petals remaining; if Belle left now, there was no way she would return in time to save him, even if she wanted to come back.

"What did you say?" she asked in disbelief.

"I release you. You are no longer my prisoner." His tried to keep his voice steady and formal, releasing her from any bond she felt by her promise.

"You mean, I'm free?" he heard her ask and his blanched at the words.

"Yes," he replied, his voice cracking with emotion. If she still believed herself a prisoner after all this time, perhaps it was for the best that she left.

"Oh, thank you!" she said, placing her hand on his paw briefly before returning to the mirror. "Hold on, Papa. I'm on my way." She turned to give the mirror back to him, but he held his hands up to refuse it.

"Take it with you," he begged. "So you'll always have a way to look back and remember me." As he spoke he dared to reach up and gently run his paw through her silky hair as he had been longing to all night. His heart was breaking as he spoke, but he could not keep her there, not when her father was in danger. It comforted him to think she might use the mirror to look on him every once in a while. It was a small comfort now, but it was all he had. He thought briefly about asking to go with her, but he would only frighten the man he had imprisoned, would only make things worse.

"Thank you for understanding how much he needs me," she said and he could see in her beautiful brown eyes how grateful she was to him. I need you too, he wanted to say as she started to walk away. He hung his head in despair, but was surprised to feel her gloved hand rest on his cheek, gently drawing his face up so she might look into his eyes once more. She smile sadly at him before retreating at last down the hall. He extended one paw as if to stop her, but knew he had to let her go. All he could do now was turn away and listen to her fading footsteps, knowing he would never see her again.

"Well, well, your highness," Cogsworth said triumphantly behind him. The Beast blanched, unwilling to discuss the night's heartbreaking events. "I must say everything is going just swimmingly. I knew you had it in you!"

"I let her go," he informed Cogsworth sadly, not moving from where he stood over the steadily wilting rose.

"Yes, yes, splen—you what? How could you do that?" Cogsworth sounded shocked and the Beast sighed, knowing he would never understand.

"I had to," he explained simply, wishing to be left alone.

"Yes, but—but why?"

"Because, I love her." The words he had longed to say to Belle finally spilled passed his lips, but it was too late. His Belle was gone forever and his heart was shattered. He listened as Cogsworth closed the door on his way out, doubtless to tell the others what had happened.

Once the door was safely closed, the Beast allowed a tear to escape him, making its steady way down the cheek Belle had so recently caressed. The pain was unbearable in his chest, his own sorrow threatening to tear him apart. Not knowing what else to do, he stumbled to the balcony in time to watch Belle gallop away from him on her horse. As she disappeared into the trees for the last time, the Beast threw his head back and roared in agony.

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