A/N: Okay, before we get started, the story starts just after the ballroom scene, after the Beast releases Belle. It always rather bothered me that she just left him there, seemingly oblivious to the emotional struggle going on within the Beast.

I hope you like it! I'm having a blast getting it worked out! :D

-Em


"Thank you for understanding how much he needs me." Belle's hands slipped away from his paws, his soft paws. One, two, three steps away, she stopped, her head down. "Maybe... maybe you could... maybe you could come... with me?"

She turned her head over her shoulder tentatively, to see the effect her words had caused.

The Beast wasn't looking at her. She couldn't see his eyes. "No. No, you should go to your father."

Two forces pulled her in opposite directions: her father, cold, alone, sick; and Beast, here. Her eyes grazed the room, the dreaded West Wing from her first night in the castle. That night, he had screamed at her, afraid to let her here. Afraid that she'd do him damage. Then, it had been littered with the objects of his torment, broken chairs, shattered mirrors, and that slashed painting, a painting of a man with blue eyes, bluer than the sky...

And yet, tonight here she stood in this room, in his heart, his inner sanctum. The broken chairs, the objects—these all had been cleared away. Cleared away, she imagined, to let her in.

She turned again to look at him. Even now, his face was turned away, his figure hunched. So much pain. Beside him, there was the rose, a glowing, beautiful thing, the thing he had been so fiercely protective of that first night.

"Do you realize what you could have DONE?"

Even now, those words terrified her, spoken themselves in such terror from him. She had never questioned that night or those words. So much had happened. But now she—they—had come full circle.

That rose, she saw, was different now. It had nearly wilted. Only a few shining petals still clung stubbornly to the stem. The Beast did not look at the thing, favoring the view of a shadowed corner. What did those petals mean? Would he die when they fell? What would happen? He had never explained it; she had never asked. Still, it was obvious to her that this rose was key to whatever enchantment had afflicted this castle, whatever made plates sing and a man—

—the man in the painting with eyes bluer than the sky—

—become a beast.

Beast, Beast... what sort of a name was Beast? He'd not always been a beast. In her heart, she could see that this was true. His eyes, they were the eyes of a man, one with a heart and soul and fire. What had happened to him? Who had he been before... whatever happened had happened?

The mirror's handle still felt cold in her hand, a mirror he gave her to remember him by. Remember him, as though she'd never return—and suddenly it hit her. No, she hadn't been his prisoner for quite some time. This was where she belonged.

She turned around and spanned the distance between them in measured, cautious steps, attempting to ignore the way that her heart was banging in her chest, in her ears, bringing an unwelcome blush to her cheeks. She thought she might be sick.

She placed the mirror back on the table carefully, afraid to break it or scratch it, the gift he had just given her.

The Beast's eyes were suddenly there, looking at her. His expression conveyed confusion, that much she could tell.

She found it difficult to find her voice. "...Tell me your name. Please, before I go."

His beastly ears fell. He turned away. "I—I don't have a name."

"But you must. Everyone has a name."

"Belle, just go..." It wasn't the roar of dissent she had grown accustomed to in the beginning, months ago. Instead, his voice was soft, soft and sad.

She placed a hand on one of his enormous paws. "I will return."

He pulled away, and said nothing, then made his way out onto his balcony. His head was stooped and she saw his chest rise and fall in a silent sigh.

She couldn't leave him like this, in this despair.

"Beast..." she said, "I love you."

His head jolted up in shock, his mouth open, revealing the points of his teeth. Belle did not look away and stood, staring at him, entirely frozen. She waited, not breathing, not at all sure what he would do. She hadn't meant to say those specific words, but now that she had said them, she understood how much she meant them.

He stood up straighter. "You—You couldn't." He took a step forward. "You love me?"

"I promise, I will return to you. And soon."

And just like that, she ran out of the room.