It had stopped raining, but Belle hardly noticed. All she knew was that she was back with her Beast; she was home. She leaned into the paw that gently cupped her cheek, feeling a gentle tightness in her chest at the result of his touch. Belle was so relieved he wasn't hurt, that she was able to be with him again.
The moment was broken when the Beast suddenly roared in pain, his paw leaving her cheek to claw at the air. Horrified by this sudden action, Belle caught hold of his cloak and looked around his bulk to see Gaston clinging to the side of the balcony, pulling his dagger from the Beast's side.
"No!" she screamed, unable to tear her eyes away from Gaston's triumphant grin. His arm reached back to stab the Beast a second time, but the Beast's frantic, agonized movements caused him to slip. Before Belle could blink, Gaston plummeted into the shadows of the ravine hundreds of feet below the castle. Unable to spare the time to think about what had just happened to Gaston, Belle helped her poor, wounded Beast over the ledge and safely onto the balcony. He tried to stand, but his legs shook and would not hold his weight. He collapsed onto the stone balcony, gasping for breath and his face twisted in pain.
Belle dove beside him and quickly examined the wound in the Beast's side. Gaston's aim was true, as a hunter's would be, mortally wounding her Beast. Delicately, Belle covered the wound with the Beast's cloak and struggled not to cry. She knelt over her Beast and gently stroked his cheek, willing him to open his eyes. At her touch, the Beast turned his head to look at her as best he could, his eyes full of pain but still managing to smile at her.
"You came back," he said, his deep voice little more than a whisper. It broke Belle's heart to hear how weak his voice was and still sound so glad to see her.
"Of course I came back," she replied, trying and failing to keep her voice steady as she gently caressed his face. "I couldn't let them. . .This is all my fault. If only I gotten here sooner." She knew she shouldn't blame herself, but it was true; had she not shown the Beast's image to Gaston, the Beast would not be dying in her arms now.
"Maybe. . .it's better this way." He was struggling to speak now, his eyes barely able to stay open. Gently, she pressed her hand to his lips to stop his words before moving her hand to caress his cheek.
"Don't talk like that. We're together now, everything will be fine, you'll see." She hoped her words brought him some comfort, for they did nothing for her own. Her Beast was dying and nothing she said would make that right. He coughed weakly and his breathing became more strained, but he forced his eyes to remain open.
"At least I got to see you. . .one last time," he said and raised his paw to touch her cheek again. Belle reached up to hold it there, the fur soft against her skin and his touch so gentle.
"Please, Beast," she pleaded, trying to hold his fading gaze. "Don't you know how you've changed me? You're my home, please, stay with me." Despite her words, the Beast's eyes closed and his body went limp, his paw sliding from her cheek to fall to the stone, never to rise again.
"No!" she cried, grasping his shirt and trying to rouse him. He couldn't be. . . "No, please don't leave me!"
Tears fell down her face, but she made no move to wipe them away. Her heart was breaking; she was too late to save her Beast, too late to tell him all that she needed to say. Hopelessly, she collapsed onto his lifeless chest, hearing no hint of the heartbeat she felt so closely just hours before in the ballroom. Knowing it was too late, that nothing could bring her Beast back to her, she whispered the words she had been longing to say but hadn't known how.
"I love you."
It began to rain again, but Belle refused to move from her Beast's side. She knew it was hopeless, but to leave his side meant to admit that he was truly dead, that she would never see his eyes look at her with all their warmth, never hear his deep, rumbling voice again. All she could do was cling to him and sob, silently willing him to wake up.
A light shone from behind her closed eyelids; at first Belle thought it was the sun dawning before she remembered they were facing west, not east, and the light was coming in bright flashes. She didn't particularly care what caused it, but when the Beast began to move beneath her she was startled into opening her eyes. The light was coming from what looked like a thousand falling stars, leaving pebbles of light on the stone around them. The Beast's eyes were still closed, showing no signs that he might be alive, but Belle was shocked into backing away from him as his body was lifted into the air as easily as a flower petal in the wind.
As the Beast rose higher in the air, Belle gathered her cloak around her and stood to back away even further. She was overwhelmingly confused by what was happening, but could not tear her eyes away from the Beast while his cloak twisted around his body as he floated in the air. Shock prevented her from forming her confusion into intelligible thoughts. All she could manage was: what's happening to him? over and over again.
She watched as the Beast's body twisted against the confines of his cloak, finally drawing out first an arm, then a leg until his limbs were exposed to the uncanny breeze the held him aloft. The strange wind blew against his fur, causing the fur to seemingly melt away to reveal human flesh, turning his clawed paws into human feet and hands. Last of all, his face began to change, his horns shrinking back to his head and his fangs disappearing as a human face took the place of her Beast's. A great flash of light kept Belle from wholly seeing this human who had somehow forced the Beast to disappear, and the man slowly sunk back down to the balcony amidst the folds of the cloak.
For a long moment, the figure did not move. Belle's curiosity dared her to reach out to move the cloak so she might see this man more clearly, but the still unknown figure started to rise and Belle jumped back in fright, her heart pounding and head spinning. What was happening?
The man stood, the cloak falling away to reveal a strong young man wearing clothes that exactly matched the Beast's. Belle watched, part in terror, part in amazement, as the man examined his own hands before finally turning around to face her.
Belle gasped at this sudden movement, wondering where her Beast had gone and why this man stood before her now. She felt her eyebrows knit together in confusion as she tried to make sense of all this. She recalled from the back of her mind the theory that the Beast had once been human, but that would have taken great magic. But what she had just witnessed before her eyes could surely not be called anything else. Was this man indeed her Beast?
"Belle, it's me," the man breathed and stepped forward to take her hands. Belle flinched away from his touch, but not far enough to pull free of it. The man's voice was somewhat familiar, though coming from the much smaller chest of a man she couldn't be sure.
Slowly, she examined the man for a trace of her Beast. He stood still, allowing her to run her fingers through his amber hair that was just a shade lighter than the Beast's fur had been. Still doubtful, she raised her eyes to meet his. This man's eyes were the same beautiful blue as her Beast's had been, their warmth and deepness exactly the same. Those beautiful eyes gazed at her with such emotion Belle had only known but once.
"It is you!" she finally realized. The Beast she loved was very much alive in this man; the Beast and this stranger were one in the same. She brought the hand that had been examining his hair to rest on his cheek, caressing his new jaw line. This was her Beast, the one she loved, the one she wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with.
His hand, so much smaller than the Beast's paw but still much larger than her own, came up to gently brush her hair away from her face. She closed her eyes at his touch, the tightness in her chest returning as it only had when the Beast touched her. As his hand moved to cup her cheek, she opened her eyes, eager to see the life and the gentleness in them again.
She watched as he slowly lowered his face so that they were no more than a hands breadth apart and Belle's heart began beating wildly. Hoping she knew what was in store, she tilted her face up to his and closed her eyes. His warm lips met her own only a moment later, sending lightning through her body. A sudden wind swirled around them, causing him to pull her closer. She wrapped her arms around his neck to prolong their kiss, unwilling for this moment to ever end.
This kiss had to end, of course, but Belle made sure to keep hold of his arms as their lips parted, unwilling to let him go lest something else happen. She was startled from looking away from him, however, as she noticed the castle around her had been transformed as well. The dark stone was gone, leaving beautiful white stone in its place and angels where there had been frightening gargoyles. The thunderclouds above them had parted, beautifully illuminating this new castle in the morning sun.
The servants had joined them as well, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts coming onto the balcony to gaze in astonishment at the sparkling stars that continued to rain down from the clear sky. Belle gasped as they were all one by one swept up by the magic and transformed into human beings. Lumiere became a tall, gangly man with a wide smile, Cogsworth, a round little man with a mustache that was reminiscent of his clock face, and Mrs. Potts rightly became a dear, plump older woman with a kind countenance. Sultan had joined them as well with Chip riding on his back, only for Sultan to be transformed into a scruffy looking dog and Chip became a small boy with a missing tooth.
Belle's head was spinning with confusion as she watched the servants regain their human forms, but the joy in their faces was addictive and kept Belle's hundreds of questions at bay. There would be plenty of time for that later. She watched with delight as her former Beast left her side to hug his servants tightly, clearly ecstatic at this wonderful turn of events. In him she saw the boyish excitement she had adored so much in her Beast and couldn't help but smile at it.
He returned to her side quickly, bending to lift her by the waist into the air and spun her around. She laughed, infected by the joy that surrounded her, unable to take her eyes away from his until he bent to kiss her again. She melted eagerly into his embrace, certain that she was finally home.