A Change In Me

Chapter 18

Beast's POV

The Beast turned to look out at the forest again, gasping heavily from his fit of agony-driven rage. The clean, elegant room was not fit for a beast, which was all he had become now; it was all he had left. Now the broken furniture and torn drapes mirrored his shattered, beastly heart once more. The suit he wore that evening lay in tatters in a corner and he had replaced it with his old trousers and cloak, knowing he was fit for little else now. But some part of himself convinced him to also put on the white linen shirt, keeping some part of his humanity in place even now.

As he caught his breath, the angry despair began to wash away, leaving him only with crippling sorrow. It was with disinterest, therefore, that he watched as a mysterious glow amongst the trees grew closer and closer to the castle. For a moment, he dared to hope it was Belle returning to him, but the glow was far too large to be from a single torch.

A few more minutes proved him right; it was the light of many torches, carried aloft by dozens of men marching towards the castle. He could hear their shouts from his elevated position in the West Wing and knew they had come to kill him. He didn't know where they came from or why they had chosen this night to come, nor did he care, but he welcomed their endeavor to murder a beast.

He turned his back on the approaching mob to watch over the enchanted rose and sighed heavily. He was at peace, indeed almost grateful, with the knowledge that he would die soon at the hands of these unknown men. There was nothing for him in this world now that Belle had left him to his doom; he only hoped the men wouldn't harm his servants.

Soon, a series of thuds echoed through the castle as the men tried to beat down the door. He prayed for them to hurry; there were only a few petals left on the rose and he didn't think he could bear to watch the last one fall.

Belle's POV

Belle flew through the forest on Philippe, pushing her horse as fast as she dare. If only her father hadn't come with her; he was still so ill, this trip would surely only make it worse. And he was an added weight which slowed them down on a night where speed was everything. He had insisted on coming along, though, and Belle didn't have the heart to part from her father again. She was glad, at least, of her father's habit to keep a spare set of clothes in the cellar, normally used to replace those he ripped or burned while working on his inventions. His nightshirt would have given little protection from the still chilly night air, but with his clothes at least he would remain somewhat warm and keep him from becoming more ill.

She coaxed Philippe into going faster, careful to keep her father upright in the saddle and the satchel which contained Chip from bouncing too harshly against her father's side. That brave little teacup; he was so clever to have used her father's invention to break them out of the cellar. She would have to remember to praise him later, once this madness was over with.

Beast's POV

It had begun to thunder, the rain pouring down in sheets. Bleak weather for his broken heart. The Beast paid little attention to it, though, watching as yet another petal fell from that terrible rose. The petals were falling faster now; time was running short.

"Pardon me, master," Mrs. Potts' voice echoed through the mess he had again created of the West Wing.

"Leave me in peace," he moaned, gazing at the last petals clinging to the rose's stem.

"But sir, the castle is under attack!" she pleaded with him.

"It doesn't matter now. Just let them come." He delicately placed a paw on the bell jar that protected the rose, knowing nothing mattered now, not even his own life.

"Oh dear," Mrs. Potts said and he heard her hasty retreat.

He listened as the doors below finally buckled under the force. All went quiet for a moment, then the unmistakable sounds of battle commenced. The Beast could not help but smile at the sounds; after all this time, after everything he had done to them, his servants still protected the castle. He was honored to have them by his side all these years and wished bitterly he could have freed them from the curse they did not deserve. But it was too late now.

Two petals remained, clinging stubbornly to the stem. Unable to watch them fall, to watch his doom become final, he moved away to the window to watch the rain instead. Despair had robbed him of he strength to stand and he sank miserably onto a chaise lounge that still remained intact. Selfishly, he wished he had kept the mirror so he might have a last glimpse of Belle, but he knew his broken heart could not have withstood the added the pain of seeing her image and not having her there with him.

As the muffled sounds of the battle below began to subside, the Beast heard the doors of the West Wing creak open. Turning uninterestedly, he saw a man standing by the door, his bow fitted with an arrow and ready to shoot. What are you waiting for? he silently asked the man and turned away with a moan. He hoped this man would hurry and end his grief.

Belle's POV

As they neared the castle, Belle saw several members of the earlier mob run past her back to town. "What's going on!" she demanded, hoping one of these frightened looking men would tell her what had happened to her Beast.

"They're alive!" they hollered, wide-eyed with terror as they bolted past Belle. "Run! The things are alive!" Belle smiled slightly. The servants were fighting back! And none of the men were screaming about a Beast, so perhaps he was safe.

Wasting no more time, Belle pushed Philippe towards the castle gates. Her poor horse was gasping heavily, but they were almost there. They crossed the bridge with one last push and Belle reined Philippe in. Signs of battle were all around her; unconscious men were lying across broken chairs and other furniture, but all was quiet now. The servants seemed to have won the day!

Before she could dismount and go inside to find the Beast, a familiar, chilling laugh echoed from above. She looked up to see Gaston, unmistakable in his red leather jerkin, on the rooftop with a cudgel in his hand steadily moving towards a mound at his feet. The mound groaned and shifted slightly and Belle could see that it was the Beast who Gaston was preparing to strike.

"No!" she screamed in horror. "No, Gaston don't!" Gaston brought the cudgel down and Belle started to look away, unwilling to watch her Beast die. But Gaston's attack was stopped suddenly as the Beast's paw rose up and took hold of it. He stood with a growl and Belle could see his will to fight had returned.

Without hesitation, Belle slid from her horse and ran through the rain inside the castle. The servants were scattered around the room, but at a quick glance none seemed seriously hurt. She hurried through them, her only thought was to get to the Beast as quickly as possible and stop Gaston. She climbed the stairs as swiftly as she could, her legs burning with the effort but she refused to stop until she reached the West Wing. She could only pray she wouldn't be too late.

Beast's POV

He lay on the edge of the roof at this man's feet, prepared to die. He heard rather than saw the man tear one of the spires off the side of the castle and come towards him. Just get it over with, he silently begged, lying still while the man approached him with his crude weapon.

"No!" a voice echoed up to where he lay. It sounded familiar and he raised his head to see who it was. Below him was, no it couldn't be. . .Belle was there, looking up at him in the rain.

"Belle?" he said weakly. Was he dreaming? Could this be just some image to taunt him in his final moments?

"No, Gaston don't!" she screamed and the Beast realized that she was truly there. She had come back! With that knowledge, his strength returned to him and he realized that he wanted to live. He wanted to live to see Belle beside him once more.

Swiftly, he turned and caught the cudgel before it could strike him, standing up to his full height. The man's mocking face turned to one of terror as the Beast straightened up and growled.

Belle's words echoed again in his mind: Gaston don't! So this was Gaston, the monster who had tormented Belle and haunted her nightmares. This man would pay for what he had done to Belle, with his life if necessary.

He struggled to tear the cudgel out of Gaston's grasp. This man was strong but, even with the broken arrow in his back, the Beast was so much stronger and he ripped the weapon away. The man slid down the side of the slick, wet roof and the Beast dove at him, sending them both hurdling through the air until they met the next rooftop. They tumbled down the slick surface until they hit a ledge. Gaston landed underneath him and the man was able to throw him off, but the Beast hid amongst a row of gargoyles and waited for him to pass. Gaston picked up his cudgel again and began slowly making his way past the stone figures.

"Come on out and fight!" he called, looking from side to side. The Beast made no move except to slide further into the shadows. "Were you in love with her, Beast?" Gaston continued. "Did you honestly think she'd want you, when she had someone like me?" The man's words angered him, but not in the way Gaston had intended. The Beast knew Belle held no love for this cruel man, but his anger grew at Gaston's dangerous, cocky persistence.

The man passed the Beast's hiding spot and the Beast eased out into the open to sneak up behind Gaston. Gaston whirled around just as the Beast went to strike, but he easily dodged the threatening cudgel and caught it in his strong jaw. They struggled for a moment and the Beast knew he was losing ground. He released the cudgel and backed up as far as he dare, the edge of the roof dangerously close. The Beast would not let his life end like this, not with Belle so close, and certainly not at the hands of this man.

"It's over, Beast," Gaston shouted above the rain and thunder. "Belle is mine!" Rage boiled inside the Beast at the thought of Belle in the hands of this monster. No such man would touch her; Belle deserved to be loved, not conquered as this man threatened.

With a swift lunge, he struck Gaston, successfully disarming him and caught hold of the man's thick throat, dangling him over the side of the castle.

Instantly, the man's cockiness turned to terror and he begged for his life. The Beast couldn't help but get some morbid satisfaction at seeing this strong man beg so piteously. He was fully prepared to simply loosen his hand and let the man fall, putting an end to this fight and to Belle's nightmares.

Belle. He realized that despite what this man had done, she would not have wanted the Beast to kill him. To do so would be cruel, and she had spent weeks convincing him that he was better than that. Because of her, the Beast had become too human to kill this man. Slowly, he dragged the man back onto the ledge.

"Get out," he growled and tossed him aside, done with this man's foolishness.

"Beast!" he heard Belle's voice call to him. He turned to see her standing on the balcony of the West Wing. Her mussed hair had come out of its bonds, her cheeks were flushed, and there was a smudge of dirt on her sleeve, but he couldn't help but think that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

"Belle!" he replied and started climbing the roof to reach her. Though it was no longer raining, the roof was still slick but his paws managed it easily. She reached a hand towards him and he hastened his climb to reach her. "Belle," he said again, more softly, so eager to touch her again and be sure she was real. When he drew close enough, he reached for her hand, enclosing it easily in his massive paw. At her touch, he knew at last that this was truly his Belle, she was really there.

"You came back," he said in disbelief, his free paw coming up to gently cup her face. She smiled and placed her hand on his, leaning into his touch. It was almost overwhelming to have her with him again; his heart swelled, no longer painfully broken and his joy filled him till he thought he'd burst. She had come back to him.

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