He twirled her around, Belle's frothy gown of golden gauze and silks a whirlwind on the polished marble floor. As her skirts subdued, her tinkling laughter filled the night air. In the vast distance, rumbling thunder rolled across the mountains.

Belle and the Beast sat on the stone railing of the balcony overlooking the gardens. A sweet, gentle breeze toyed with Belle's glorious auburn hair. She shuddered slightly, rubbing her bare arms. The Beast noticed. "Are you cold?" he asked quietly.

"Not really." She answered off hand. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak; she looked up at him expectantly.

The Beast fidgeted under her lovely gaze. If you love her, you'll let her go. His heart whispered. Taking a deep breath, he cleared his throat. "Belle, are you…happy here with me?" he asked carefully.

Belle looked up at him with those eyes, loving and gentle and said, "Yes…" but her vice trailed off as she looked away; her troubled brown eyes couldn't meet his. At first, his heart soared, but when he saw her face, he leaned in closer and asked, "What is it?" fearing the answer. "If only I could see my father again, only for a moment. I miss him so much." She raised a gloved hand to her teary eyes and brushed away a crystal tear before it fell upon her dress.

The Beast gently gathered her into his burly arms; Belle's slight hands snaked up his chest and she clung to him as she began to cry in earnest. Beast gently rubbed her back and kissed her soft hair as she cried and he battled with his conscience. He looked out at the horizon: dark storm clouds were forming in the distance, the booming of thunder was in the distance, slowing moving in. He knew what he had to do.

"Go home, Belle." He whispered roughly. A heartbeat later, Belle lifted her tearstained face up at him in disbelief. "Home?" she mouthed. "I-I release you: you're no longer my prisoner." She would never know what those words cost him. Her eyes suddenly it up, he couldn't look for they reminded him of how much he loved her. "Oh, thank you!" she flung her arms around his neck, her face buried in the fur of his throat. He held her close as the thunder came closer, nearing the circle of perfection that he was encased in.

Belle was the one to extract herself from his embrace. She couldn't believe that he was letting her go. After all those wonderful months and then tonight! She had had a wonderful time and now he was letting her go. Belle gazed p at the Beast and she thought she saw the glint of tears in his beautiful blue eyes but she told herself it was the light reflected off her own tears. "Oh, what shall I do?" she asked shrilly. "I'd have to pack…but I brought nothing with me." She faltered as her hand reached up to the amber rose necklace that Beast had given her earlier that evening. She would hate very much if she had to give it up.

"Take whatever you want: the books, the clothes, I have no use for them." He growled more to himself than her. Belle put her hand on his arm, "You've given me so much already, how could I possibly-"

"Just take them and go!" he growled as he shook her arm off of his. Belle gasped as she snatched her hand away from his arm. "Go before I can't let you." He said softly, achingly. Belle just stared at him, understanding slowly setting in. "Thank you for understanding how much he needs me." She said gently as she stroked his face. The Beast pressed his face against her hand as he nodded. She slowly took her hand away then turned to go. "But I need you just as much." He whispered to the incoming storm clouds. Belle stopped short.

She turned back to him, a mix of love and sadness in her eyes. He looked up expectantly as she came closer; she gathered his face into her small hands and lowered her lips to his, not so much lower, for he was still so much taller than she was even sitting down. Her kiss was gentle, her soft lips pressed against his. She marveled at how soft his lips were. The Beast, still shocked that she had kissed him, quickly pressed her body to his, his hands on her hips and back as they kissed in the night.

She was the one to step away; a deep flush crept up her pale cheeks as they shared in an awkward moment. "Belle," he began. She turned and fled through the ballroom, her skirts swishing against her legs. Her heart was pounding as she swiftly ran from the one person who really understood her.

The rain started as soon as she left. Heavy drops of cold, sharp rain fell from the grey sky. Cogsworth, Lumiere, and Mrs. Potts looked on in sympathy as Belle left the ballroom. The Beast only vaguely felt the drops of rain on his up-turned face; he couldn't tell which drops were tears or rain. It was then that the sky opened and began to fall. He felt her go, he knew the second she was out the door. He stumbled to the West Wing just as Belle rode off through the main gate and onto the road. Thunder and lightning ripped through the sky and the castle seemed to be at the center of the storm. The storm reflected his emotions and the pain that he felt welling up in his heart made its way up to his throat swelling into a mighty roar. He let loose his pain in a horrible, gut wrenching cry that was clearly audible over the intense storm.

Just beyond the gates, Belle cringed as the Beast's roar ripped through the night. What made the noise so horrible was that it was not the sound of an animal in pain, but of a man's heart breaking. Gathering the reigns in her shaking white-knuckled hands, Belle nudged Philippe forward into the dark forest. Belle galloped through the night towards home. Home. Over the past few months, she had begun to forget what her house looked like and where things were and how things that her father had rigged up worked. These thoughts and feelings had shamed her at first, those memories were the only things that had kept her going those first few days. But the Beast soon filled her days with light and laughter and she began to feel that her new memories were more precious than her old ones.

Soon Philippe crashed through the brush behind her house and reared up and whinnied loudly. The rain was still falling, but the thunder and lightning seemed to linger in the Beast's Realm. Belle dismounted just as her beloved befuddled Papa came rushing out of the house.

"Belle!" the old man gasped as he wrapped his arms around his beloved child.

"Oh Papa, I missed you so much." Belle said as she squeezed him tightly.

Maurice let go of her only at arms length as he looked at her face. She was wet, but healthy and happy, as far as he could tell. He took a deep breath and rubbed her arms. "I thought that I'd never see you again. How did you escape?" The old man gasped as he looked around for signs of danger. Belle grinned, "I didn't escape Papa. The Beast-he let me go." Her grin drooped as she said this. "Why?" her father asked, bewildered at her reaction. "Because…well…he loves me." She said as she heard the Beast's last words to her: "I need you just as much." It all registered in her mind and heart. "I didn't realize it at the time and now I look back at how he changed from the first time I met him. It took everything that he had to send me back to you. He put my happiness before his own." Belle gasped in horror.

Maurice watched his daughter's reaction and understood. He may be old and a bit forgetful, but wasn't blind. He took her hands in his and kissed them. He smiled as Belle looked at him, her eyes anxious. "Go back to him, Belle. I know that that is where you belong."

Relief washed through her, but she still resisted. "But I just got back!"

Maurice shook his head slowly. "I have known and loved you for 17 years; it's time for someone else to have you. And since the Beast sent you back, I know that he cares for you and there isn't anyone more deserving." Belle smiled, tears in her eyes. "I do know him, and his heart. He needs me." Maurice hugged her again and helped her remount her horse. "Come visit soon." He said as she turned Philippe around back towards the forest.