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Too late.

She reached the balcony, her breath harsh and sides heaving from the exercise. Her eyes were only for him.

She called out to him.

He turned to her, face alight with wonder.

His eyes were so very blue. So very kind.

The knife was nothing, just a silver gleam arcing through the sky.

She had been just a little too late, and Gaston's aim had been just a little too precise.

Her cry was swallowed by the Beast's roar.

 

 

The servants find her by his side, cheeks soaked with tears and voice hoarse with please. Come back— come back to me. I love you.

Her hands are red. She had tried to staunch the wound, hadn't removed the knife, had done everything that the books had said.

None of it worked.

The blood on her hands is drying, and her Beast is cold.

Gaston is gone. She has faint memories— that incessant bragging, the feel of muscles against the palms of her hands, a look of utter shock, a piercing cry eaten by the wind— but she doesn't let herself think of them— on what they mean. On what she must have done.

She doesn't remember how she got down from the balcony. Her dress is torn and the skin on her hands and legs is raw.

The servants are speaking.

Cogsworth sounds— lost, confused.

Mrs. Potts' voice is worried, choked with tears.

Lumiere simply sounds shattered.

In a distant corner of the castle, the last rose petal falls.

 

 

One of the larger servants brought him inside. She followed.

Her mind had always been her greatest weapon, but right then she couldn't think.

Her hands were cold. The blood was already crusting.

Her mind replayed it over and over. The knife, arcing through the air. His eyes, fixed on hers, so very blue and alit with wonder.

She had to do something. What could she do?

Her Papa would know. Papa— he was a genius. He could fix anything. He could fix this.

She broke her silence, turned away from the Beast for the first time. "Where's my father?" she asked, desperation lacing her words with a sudden, fierce energy.

The door opened, and Chip hopped in. His eyes locked on hers, and he didn't notice the Beast. Not yet.

"Belle," he cried out, hopping towards her. "Belle, there's something wrong—"

 

 

Her Papa had collapsed. The servants set him up in a room, and she set herself up in there as well. She never left his side, tending to his every want. The servants came by often, bringing food, or firewood, or to try to coax her to rest.

She ate little and slept less. When she did sleep, she was slumped in her chair, her head resting on his mattress. Had he been aware, her father would have protested. But his breath rattled in his lungs and he spent his days in a fevered daze, in no condition to worry about anything.

The Beast was buried quietly in a crypt beneath the castle. The servants held a small ceremony.

She didn't attend.

Her Papa would get better, she just knew it. He'd get better, and then he would know what to do, and he would fix things, and then he would get to see that the Beast wasn't what he seemed, and then they could be a family, together, and—

He got worse and worse and worse, until one day she woke up to find him as cold as her Beast.

 

 

He was buried in the garden. She didn't even know that the castle had a garden. The rose bushes grow thick and wild without a single bloom, and it was under the largest of those that the grave was dug.

 

 

Winter turned to spring. No roses graced the thorny branches of the garden.

She stayed at the castle— there was no question of her leaving. The servants were lost with the loss of their master, desperate to serve, and she— how could she ever return to her village, when it was their fault that her Papa was dead, their fault the Beast was gone?

 

 

She eats. She sleeps. She visits her Papa's grave. Still no roses bloom.

 

 

Finally, she asked the servants why. She was a smart girl. She knew there was more to it than the Beast being— gone. So she went to the two who she trusted most.

"I don't think," Cogsworth began, protesting as she knew he would, but Lumiere waved away his words, the flames on his candlestick-hands diminishing.

"What could it hurt?" he asked. There was little light-hearted about his words. "We cannot change anything now."

So they told her. About an enchantress, a prince, and a curse. About their hope and an impossibly precious rose. They didn't need to tell her the ending of the story.

She already knew.

 

 

The idea has always been there, hovering in the back of her mind. It's not until she hears their tale, however, that she begins to think of how.

Everything had begun with magic— with that single spell cast upon her Beast and his castle. Perhaps the solution she sought would end with magic as well.

 

 

She went to the library. Of course she did— for all that had happened, she was still herself, and she had always depended on books to tell her the answers.

This library was far more vast than any she had ever seen before, and so she tackled it methodically, section by section, row by row. She had a confidence now that her father's death had taken away. The library was so large. Certainly there would be books on magic in there.

The days passed, and she found nothing.

 

 

It was Chip who finally asked her. "What are you looking for?" He tilted his head, still innocent despite all that had happened. Still a child.

The tray rattled as Mrs. Potts turned ever so slightly towards her, and Cogsworth dropped any pretensions of dusting one of the bookshelves to listen to her reply.

So she told them the simplest truth. "Books of magic," she said, and they went oddly silent. She recognized it, this silence. It came every time they were reminded of the curse— or of the Beast.

"The Master... in the beginning, he searched for a cure," Mrs. Potts said. "But he couldn't find one. He was... quite angry."

It took Belle a moment to respond. Her breath caught in her throat, she asked, "Where are they now?"

"In the West Wing, I suspect," said Cogsworth.

 

 

She found the books in one of the dark corners of the Beast's chambers. They all laid haphazardly in a heap, with broken spines and torn pages, covered in layers and layers of dust. She could picture what must had happened clearly— the Beast, growing more and more frustrated as each book failed to give him the answers he sought, and how he must have thrown them when they failed.

But the words were still legible, despite the damage neglect and anger had wrought, and she gathered them up and brought them to the study she had set up for her. Stacks and stacks of books— just what she had hoped for.

And then she began to read.

 

 

And so she learns.

She can see why her Beast found these books useless— there is nothing that would have lifted his curse in these pages. But there is knowledge in them, knowledge she needs, knowledge she takes in both hands and devours.

Every book she reads tells her that what she's attempting is impossible. She doesn't care. After all, did people not say that her Papa's ideas were mad— that his inventions were impossible? And did he not prove them wrong?

And is she not her father's daughter?

It is possible. It has to be.

 

 

And so she read. She saw the connections that the books had not. She read, and she put the pieces together, and as time passed the paper the servants had brought her was covered in her handwriting.

What is, she thought, and, couldn't that apply to?

She read, she theorized, and—

she hoped.

 

 

"Mademoiselle," Lumiere says.

Belle didn't respond. Her eyes move across the page. She turns it.

"Mademoiselle," Lumiere repeats.

As last she tears her gaze from the printed ink before her. "Yes?" she asks, pressing cool fingers against her eyelids. Her father had a pair of eyeglasses, she remembers. There's bound to be a pair in the castle, somewhere. Perhaps she can ask for them, to help with the strain.

"...take a break," Lumiere finishes a speech she hadn't even heard until then. She pauses.

"Excuse me?" Belle asks, quietly.

"Well, you haven't— you've been working on this," here he waves one arm to indicate her notes and books, "for months now, and we have been thinking that you have been looking, ah, a bit under the weather— and that you should, perhaps, take a small break?"

Belle stills. When she next speaks, her voice is very, very soft. "Are you telling me to give up?"

"Wha— of course not, mademoiselle, I was merely suggesting—"

Cogsworth she's expected. Cogsworth she's prepared herself for. But Lumiere? She's thought that he would have understood.

"Get out." Her voice is still very quiet.

"I— excuse me?"

"Get out!" she snaps, her voice suddenly rising in volume. "My Papa never gave up on anything and neither will I! Get out get out get out!" She rises from her chair, and takes a step towards him.

He scrambles out of the door, letting it clatter shut behind. Chest heaving, she pushes a stray hair behind her ear as she stares coldly at the door.

Then, she sits back down, and returns to her reading.

 

 

A few moments later, she stopped, pressing cool fingers to her eyelids. Her father had always had a pair of eyeglasses— there was bound to be a pair somewhere in the castle.

"Lumiere?" she asked, turning away from her books to an empty room. She frowned. She could have sworn that Lumiere had been in the room. After a moment, she laughed, light and sweet.

"Oh well," she said, smiling as she shook her head. "I could always ask him later."

 

 

It was impossible.

She reread all her books. She rechecked all her calculations. She plugged other variables into her equation— what if instead, I did this?, she would think, and tried, and tried again.

The result was always the same.

Impossible.

She had the container. She had the magic, the rituals. She even had the means to recapture the soul.

What she didn't have was an anchor.

And without that, all her work would be meaningless.

How could she make the soul stay?

How could she make the Beast's heart beat again?

 

 

"Oh, Papa," Belle sighs, leaning against the wall. She lets the book slip from her grasp, allowing it to thud against the floor, joining all the rest. "I just don't understand. There's an answer— there has to be— but I just don't see it."

She presses her hands against her face, head bowed.

"What am I missing, Papa?" she whispers.

For a moment, all is silent.

 

 

Then, Belle lifted her head.

"Of course," she breathed. "The library."

She had looked through all the books of magic the castle had, studied every theory, read every spell, scanned through the details of every ritual.

But who ever said that the answer she was looking for would be found in a book of magic?

The books of fairytales, the books of folklore, the books of medicine and science, she took them all. She took them, and she laughed at her own foolishness. Her Papa hadn't made his inventions by following the expected modes of thought, and neither should she. Science, magic, myth— it didn't matter which it was. Somewhere, she would find her answer.

 

 

And then she did.

It's so simple. So obvious. If she's trying to get something from the beyond to stay, then why not use something from the beyond to do so? And what can be an easier way to get a creature from the beyond than by summoning it.

It isn't easy. There are details to be considered, mistakes to be ironed out— but she can do it. She can bring her Beast back.

And then they can be a family again.

She holds the book of folklore close, and smiles.

 

 

It was winter again when she stepped outside the castle. The sun's weak light felt odd against her skin— she hadn't bathed in its rays in so long. When she looked at her arms, they were as snow.

She made her way into the garden, picking up an axe from the shed. Soon, soon she would see the Beast again— but first, she needed to gather the materials for the ritual. And she refused to forget the most important one of them all.

She stopped before her father's grave, her eyes set on the rosebush rising above it.

"I'm sorry, Papa," she whispered as she raised her axe.

 

 

She steps into her room for the first time in months, dragging the rosebush's stem behind her.

"Where is it?" she demands.

"Where is what, dear?" Wardrobe asks.

"The gown, the gown," Belle snaps. "Where is it?"

She needs that dress. Wardrobe has to give it to her.

"I don't know—" Wardrobe begins.

Belle hefts her axe onto her shoulder.

She needs that dress.

After all, she has to look her best for her Beast.

 

 

She put the last of the materials she needed onto her desk, and paused. She looked at the golden ball gown, hanging innocuously over her chair.

How—?

She shook her head. That wasn't important. She had to focus on the ritual— on what she had to do. But still—

She should look her best for the Beast.

She put it on, gathered up her materials, and swept out of the room.

Behind her, the fire crackled merrily.

 

 

It's cold and dark deep within the crypt, and the lantern she carries casts more shadows than it dispels.

His coffin is easy to find— it's the largest one there is. The lid is heavy, but she's determined, and eventually she managed to push it off. It clatters and cracks as it hits the ground.

She looks inside, at what's left of his body— little more than fur and bone. She doesn't seem to notice.

"Hello, Beast," she says.

 

 

She drew the circle carefully. There could be no mistake— there were enough warnings in her books for her to realize that if there were, she would have no second chances. She carefully set the materials required around the circle in their determined spots.

She would make no mistakes. This would work.

She set down the last of the ingredients— a bundle of hawthorn— and straightened up. Everything was ready.

This would work. It had to.

She clenched the rosewood tight in her hand, opened her mouth, and said the words.

 

 

For a moment, she thinks that it didn't work. Then the circle glows, white-hot, and the smoke drifting from her lantern pulls. It gathers above the circle, inky and thick, and it pulls more smoke after it, more and more, more than could ever come from such a small flame.

It grows thicker and thicker, and the light glows brighter and brighter until tears slip from her eyes, but she does not look away.

Finally, when she thinks the smoke can't grow any darker, it moves, tunneling down to the ground with such force that the stone beneath cracks. A wretched hissing sound fills the air as smoke meets light, and finally, finally, the smoke changes, becoming something more solid, until the light finally fades, and all she is left with is a circle and a creature that seeks its home in the beyond.

This is no angel she has summoned; those great cathedrals in the capital are no place for a creature such as this. But she is not afraid. He is massive and covered in fur, and his teeth so very large, his fangs so very sharp— but the same is true of her gentle Beast, and there is something beautiful about the curve of his horns.

"You," the demon growls. "You dare to bind me? A pitiful, weak, human girl?"

"No," Belle says pleasantly. She sets down her lantern, and grasps the rosewood with both hands. "I intend to use you."

 

 

The books are right, she learns. Beneath the touch of her carved rosewood, the demon's skin, impervious to iron and steel, melts apart as easily as butter.

 

 

The second thing she learns is that, for all their power and strength, demons scream as loudly as any other creature when they are dying.

 

 

She finds it in what any other creature would have been its belly. Covered in a cage of bone and muscle, still the glow leaks through once skin and fur is gone. It takes only a simple push of wood, simple as a touch, and the bone shatters and muscle tears.

And there it is. Glowing, beating— a demon's immortal heart.

 

 

"Beast," she whispers. "Beast, I have it— see?" She holds the heart, cupped in her hands, before his sunken eyelids.

She knows what she has to do. Carefully, she sets the heart where his once beat, and, gently, presses.

The heart slowly sinks into his body.

She cups her hand around his cheek. Blood seeps from her hand to his matted fur.

 

 

"Please," she whispered. "Come back to me."

 

 

It's ironic— at both his death and birth, she finds herself with her hands soaked in his blood.

 

 

His body glows.

She backs away, eyes wide, cheeks flushed, lips curved as his body rises into the air, that white-hot light swirling, so bright that her eyes burn with pain.

And she laughs, clearly, sweetly. He's back, he's really coming back, soon, soon, he'll be home again, and they can all be together—

 

 

The light fades. The crypt is darker for the loss of it, somehow. Her lantern, half-forgotten, flickers in vain.

A figure crouches in-between coffin and shadow, its massive form a dark figure against an even darker light. He moves in shadows— just as he had when they first met.

"Beast," she breaths.

He snarls, and lunges. His claws gleam in the lantern's weak light.

 

 

Her dress is torn. Belle clucks her tongue, giving the mess made of her skirts a disapproving look. Her leg burns, sticky and hot.

 

 

He moves into the light, and roars. Saliva drips from his fangs.

 

 

She looked into his dull eyes, and something like ice clenched its fingers around her heart.

His eyes were so very blue. So very kind.

"What did they do to you?" she whispered.

 

 

He does not strike her again. He lowers his claws, and growls again, stalking back and forth before her, his fur standing on end.

"It's alright," she soothes. "It's alright. Everything will be alright."

He stares at her, his eyes fixed firmly on hers.

 

 

"....Belle...," the Beast rasps.

"Yes," she croons. "We're together now. We're together, and nothing will tear us apart, because—"

 

 

"I love you," Belle said desperately. Come back, come back to me—

 

 

"I love you," she repeats. Her voice is honey. "I came back, see?"

"....Belle...." the beast rasps again. "....Belle....love....Belle...."

Her heart sings, and she falls to her knees, wrapping her arms around his neck. One of his horns brush against her cheek, smooth and cool.

"I'll never leave you again," she promises. "We'll be together forever, and no one will ever change that."

 

 

The baker, the bartender, the hunters, the keeper of the asylum. All the people in her small, provincial town. They'll come again, if they know that her Beast is alive. They'll try to pull them apart again, and she cannot let that happen.

She wonders how the beast's claws will look covered in blood.

She wonders how easily their skin will split under a knife.

 

 

"I promise."