"I'm right here! Now get your filthy hands off of her!"

"Beast," I breathed; my voice was a mix of relief and despair. He was here! I was with him again! But he couldn't be here; Gaston was going to kill him!

Gaston spun around, an evil grin spreading across his face.

"Final- oh my God! What are you?" he asked, taking in Beast's appearance in person for the first time. Beast stood, hunched over like an animal about to pounce. His teeth were bared as he snarled at Gaston; his eyes danced with rage. I had never seen him look so primal, so…beastly.

He lunged at Gaston, who didn't have enough time to properly raise his gun. The two of them fell onto the floor in a heap. Beast struggled to tear the gun from Gaston's grip, but Gaston used one of his hands to punch Beast hard in the face; Beast let out a roar and lost his hold on the gun. Gaston used the opportunity to kick Beast off of him and stand up.

Gaston's face was white and he shook slightly as he aimed the gun at Beast. Clearly he hadn't expected such an adversary in Beast. Adrenaline pumping, I launched myself onto Gaston's back and slung my arms around his neck, hoping to choke him. He let out a strangled gagging noise as he lost his balance and fell backwards; he landed on me hard and I yelped. Beast had recovered by now; he grabbed Gaston by his collar and pulled him off of me and to his feet.

"Fight me like a man!" Beast roared in his face. Gaston steadied himself and glared at Beast, hands twitching.

"You're not a man!" Gaston spat. "You're an animal – a filthy animal!" The two men began to circle each other slowly, both looking for an opening as Gaston continued to taunt Beast. "It's a little pathetic, you know. You looked so heartbroken when Belle showed you to me in the mirror. Did you actually think that Belle loved you? You! How could she want an animal, especially when she has me?"

Despite Gaston's mockery, I thought I saw a glint of anxiety in his eyes. It made sense; Gaston had expected to come here with a group of men. He had planned to outnumber Beast. With more men, the fight would have been over instantly. Now, though, Gaston was facing Beast one-on-one; Beast had size and strength on his side, and while Gaston was used to hunting animals, he was not used to hunting something that could walk upright and think as he could.

"Don't listen to him, Beast!" I urged, wringing my hands. Gaston's gun on the floor caught my eye. I inched towards it, hoping to end this. When I reached down to pick it up, though, Gaston made his move; he must have known I would interfere. Instead of charging at Beast, Gaston spun around towards me. He swooped in and grabbed both the gun and me. He wrapped an arm around my neck, nearly lifting me off the floor. His other hand held the gun, a finger resting on the trigger.

I realized, then, that Gaston was a very skilled hunter; he had adapted to his advanced prey. I should never have interfered – I had played right into his plan.

"I'm going to make this very simple, beast," Gaston said slowly. "You can either surrender to me and let me kill you…or I can kill Belle. Make your choice!"

"Beast, please," I begged. "Just go." Beast's fury seemed to melt away to despair. My heart sank; I knew he would never leave. He held his arms up in a gesture of submission.

"Kill me," he said simply; I let out a choked sob. "But please, let Belle go in peace."

"I'll see how I feel," Gaston said with a sneer. He pushed me hard onto the ground and used his now free hand to fully aim the gun at Beast. "After I kill you."

I struggled to get up but knew I wouldn't make it in time. I couldn't beat Gaston's reflexes or the bullet that was about to fly from his gun.

"Gaston, wait!" shouted a new voice from the staircase. Taken aback, we all turned to see my father running towards Gaston.

"I appreciate the gesture, Maurice," Gaston said, "but I have this under control."

"You can't do this!" Papa shouted. "I won't let you."

"Try and stop me," Gaston sneered. Papa jumped forward and grabbed the gun. The two men struggled over the gun for a moment, and then it happened.

I don't know if the gun went off accidentally or if Gaston intentionally pulled the trigger; all I know is that a gunshot thundered through the hall. I screamed as a red spot spread over Papa's shirt.

"Papa!" I shouted, running to him. Gaston's eyes widened, but even the shooting of my father didn't seem to shake him; he was trying to reload the gun when Beast attacked him with a thundering roar.

I turned my attention quickly to Papa, who didn't seem to see me even though he was staring directly at me.

"Papa?" I whispered, tears beginning to escape from my eyes.

"Finally," he breathed, his face turning into a small smile. A final breath escaped his mouth and he slumped backwards. I jumped up, unable to waste any time. It took me a moment to process the scene behind me; my mind refused to clear. Finally, I snapped to my senses and saw Beast fighting with Gaston.

Gaston struggled as Beast attempted to close his paws around his throat, but Gaston did not have the size or primal strength that Beast did. After only a moment, Beast sneered in triumph as he tightened his grip around Gaston's neck.

I tried to tell Beast to stop, to not kill Gaston, but my voice caught in my throat. After all, I considered for a second, didn't Gaston deserve to die?

Beast's sneer fell away as he seemed to realize himself. He loosened his hold on Gaston's neck; Gaston sucked in a huge gulp of air and coughed loudly. Beast reached over and retrieved the gun; with one move, he bent the gun's barrel, rendering it useless. He stood up and pulled Gaston up with him. Holding him by the shirt, he put his face in his.

"I should flay you within an inch of your life," Beast snarled; Gaston's eyes widened in nearly tangible fear. "I should make you suffer and then send you to the depths of hell for everything you have done to her. It's what you deserve. I am a better person than you, though – than you will ever be." Gaston tried to protest with an acidic remark, but Beast shook him and he shut his mouth.

"Get – out." he said in a low rumble. "Get out and never come back." He half-pushed, half-threw Gaston towards the staircase and then turned towards me, chest heaving.

We stared at each other in silence for a moment; all of the words we had left unspoken seemed to hover between us, separating us. Then a tear fell down my face and I made a strange gurgling noise.

"Beast," I breathed, throwing myself at him. His huge limbs caught me in a tight, warm embrace. Suddenly, I felt whole again; I released a breath I hadn't known I had been holding as I returned to my home in his arms. I sank into him, allowing him to completely surround me.

"You came back," he said, stroking my hair.

"Of course I did. I thought – I – do you want me back?"

"Of course," he mimicked. I allowed myself a small smile.

"Belle, I – agh!" Beast let out a heart wrenching, pained roar and twisted away from me. I pulled away in horror to see Gaston standing there with a triumphant smirk. My eyes flashed towards the hilt of the hunting knife that was lodged in Beast's side. My stomach fell and I screamed; how could I have been stupid enough to think that Gaston would only bring a gun to kill Beast? I had been an idiot!

Gaston yanked the knife out; Beast whined in pain and a spurt of blood shot from the wound. He planted the knife in Beast's back this time; Beast fell to his knees on the floor.

When Gaston pulled the knife out again, I delivered a kick between his legs with as much force as I could muster. Gaston shouted and bent forward, clutching his crotch. I grabbed at the knife, slippery with blood, and managed to steal it from his weakened grip.

With a guttural cry, I slipped the blade across Gaston's throat. With a hiss, air and blood seeped from the cut. Gaston's head whipped up and he stared at me with eyes full of fury and pain. I stepped back, trying to avoid the blood, though my dress had already been stained with it.

I kept waiting to feel sick, but I could only feel relief and pride; I had ended the man who had tormented me for so long – the man who was taking Beast from me. Not bothering to watch as Gaston quickly died, I turned to Beast who had fallen back onto the floor.

I nearly became hysteric when I saw the blood that had pooled around him. How was it possible for him to bleed that much? His breathing was labored and his eyes were shut. I knelt beside him and gently touched his face.

"Oh Beast," I said, losing myself to my tears. He opened his eyes and weakly wiped a tear from my cheek.

"Shh," he breathed. "Don't – cry."

"I just got you back," I moaned.

"Maybe – it's better – like – this," he said, closing his eyes again. His breathing slowed.

"Mrs. Potts!" I screamed. Someone had to come – someone had to help me. When she hurried up the steps, I shouted again. "Get a doctor! Help me, I don't – I don't know what to do!"

"Belle, dear, maybe you should come with me," Mrs. Potts whispered soothingly, touching my shoulders. I shook her off with a strangled scream.

"I – I can't leave him!" I shouted.

"Belle," Beast whispered. "Calm – calm down. I – got to see – you – one last – time."

When Beast had fallen into the lake, I was able to compose myself long enough to save him. Now, though, as he lay on the floor bleeding out, I saw no hope, no chance to save him. I lost all sense of rationality as my emotions took over.

"Please Beast!" I exclaimed, sobbing onto his chest. "You – you can't leave me!" Beast gave me a small smile before his head fell backward. I collapsed onto his chest, where I could barely hear his heart beating.

"I'm sorry," I sobbed. "I'm sorry I left you. I should never have left you!"

"Shh…." Beast could barely make a sound.

This was all my fault. All my fault.

Why had I left?

Now I would never have a life with Beast. Now my life was over.

Why hadn't I been able to tell him how I felt before now? Why couldn't I accept just how much I felt for him?

It seemed so glaringly obvious now; I wondered how long I had been in love with Beast. Maybe it was the day we shared in the snow; maybe I had fallen in love with him when I pulled him from the lake, or maybe at Christmas. Though it hardly mattered now, I had to tell him.

"I am so sorry." I closed my eyes, tears streaming down my face. "I love you," I said, releasing the three words that I had kept inside of me for so long in a strong voice; I was surprised at how clear my voice sounded, and at how good it felt to say those words.

"I love you."

There was a flash of white light from Beast's chest; he let out a groan. Startled, I leaned away from him.

"What…" I trailed off as Beast began to writhe on the ground. His features started to melt and blend; his fur seemed to be receding into his skin. His massive body shrank and faded until there was no Beast – instead, a handsome brunette man lay in his place. The knife from his side clattered to the ground, and this man had no blood seeping from him. He groaned, clutching his head, and sat up slowly. When he opened his eyes, I was shocked to see that they were a vivid, electric blue – they were Beast's eyes. He seemed confused for a moment; he put his hands in front of his face and felt his chest. Then, a smile broke out on his face. He clutched my hands in his, beaming.

"Belle," the man breathed. His voice wasn't the deep roar Beast's had been, but I could hear the similar tones. He let out a heartwarming laugh, and I knew then who he was.

"Either I'm dead," the man continued. "Or you just broke my curse."

Looking back, I am slightly ashamed at how long it took for me to put together all of the pieces and figure out what I had done to break his curse. To be fair, my brain was fairly addled as we settled the events of that night.

I stared at the man – Beast, I supposed – in silence. Mrs. Potts, however, knew immediately that this was the man from so long ago. As I watched, my eyes rushing and moving to take in every inch of him, Mrs. Potts swooped in, tears streaming down her face. She took the man up in her arms, squeezing him and crying into his shirt. With a broad grin, he completed the embrace.

"Oh, Mrs. Potts!" he exclaimed. It was only a moment before everyone else had rushed up the stairs. The man hugged Lumiere, Cogsworth, Bouche, and Babette over and over while I stood slightly to the side; my head spun slightly as I took in the scene before me.

A part of me felt like I was trespassing; everyone else had known the man for years. They had been there when the curse had been enacted; I had only come along once it was almost over.

I stared at the man. He wasn't as tall as Beast had been, although he was still several inches taller than me. He was slender, but I could see the muscles under his now too-large clothing. His brown hair hung around his shoulders, moving gently as he moved to embrace everyone. …and his eyes! Even though they weren't looking at me, I could feel the energy pulsing from his vivid blue eyes.

"Oh, Lumiere," Mrs. Potts began with a frown. She whispered something in his ear and he nodded. "Come on, dears; let's go down to the kitchen." She turned to the stairs, under the impression that others would follow. I watched as Lumiere retreated to a nearby room and came back with a large bundle of sheets. After a whispered word to Bouche and Cogsworth, the men began to cover Papa and Gaston's bodies with the sheets.

"Belle, you shouldn't watch," a soft voice called; I felt a hand on my shoulder and spun to see the man staring at me, concern darkening his perfect blue eyes – Beast's eyes. Those eyes moved over my face and the man frowned. "He hurt you," he said; I could detect a growl in his voice, but it was light.

"Well," I said, giggling awkwardly as I tried to clear my head. "I think I got off easy; he stabbed you." The man smiled Beast's smile, his blue eyes dancing.

"At least let me look at your injuries," he said; I allowed him to lead me to the stairs.

"I am fine," I said with a small smile. "Well, I'm physically fine. I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around you, though."

"Belle, if you don't let me make sure you are physically all right, I will – what was it? – bludgeon you in the head and do it while you are unconscious?" He grinned at me, and I couldn't help but smile shyly back.

"Fine," I allowed as we walked into the den. He guided me gently into the large armchair and then knelt on the ground in front of me. His face turned serious as he examined my twisted wrist. The skin was swollen and purple; I saw him purse his lips and couldn't help but giggle at his serious expression. Even as anger at Gaston clouded his face, I had to admit - he was handsome.

"I don't think it's broken," he said. "Just – badly hurt." I saw him clench his teeth and put my hand over his.

"I am okay," I said gently. He didn't answer, but continued his examination. His eyes moved up to my face, where my skin was bruised and swollen. He moved his hand to gently wipe away blood from under my busted lip. I shuddered slightly; it was strange to feel skin instead of fur. His hand tenderly cupped my cheek; I moved my own hand over his.

"It's really you," I breathed, my mind finally coming to a rest after reeling for so long.

Somehow, somehow, we had survived the evening. It was Gaston, not Beast or I, who had met his end tonight. Beast and I had endured; we were together against all the odds.

Everything from the past month washed over me; the anxiety from this evening crashed down and I began to sob noisily. Beast readily wiped the tears that fell from my eyes.

"Don't cry, Belle," he murmured soothingly. "Everything is all right now."

"I almost lost you!" I wailed. "I am so sorry."

"Shh," he cooed. I sniffed, trying to compose myself. He smiled at me, wiping away the last of my tears.

"Lose me?" he asked. "I will never let that happen. I'm not going anywhere." He sat up as tall as he could on his knees; our eyes met and I could feel myself pouring into him. I leaned towards him.

"Does your lip hurt?" he whispered.

"No," I answered, closing my eyes.

"Good," he replied just before our lips met. His kiss was gentle and more exquisite than I could ever have imagined. I melted into him, completely giving myself up; at the same time, I could feel him surrendering himself to me. He wrapped his arms around my waist and stood up, taking me with him. I draped my arms around his neck as he deepened our kiss. After a moment, we pulled apart; he immediately kissed the corner of my mouth, my cheek, my eyelids.

"Belle, I give you my word that no one will ever hurt you again. I love you," he said, pulling me closer towards him.

"Oh, I love you," I replied, resting my head in the crook of his neck. We held each other until we heard Mrs. Potts calling for us; as we made our way to the kitchen with clasped hands and shy grins, I knew that I was home.

Beast tightened his grip on my shoulders.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked quietly in my ear. I nodded, steeling myself as I looked at the fresh mound of dirt that held my father.

Mrs. Potts and Bouche had whipped up food and we celebrated all night long. Lumiere and Cogsworth rejoined us soon, having taken the bodies out of the house. At one point, Mrs. Potts turned to me, her eyes full of concern and curiosity.

"Belle, dear – now feel free not to oblige – I was wondering if you could tell us what exactly happened tonight." I nodded at once; they all deserved to know, after all.

I briefly skimmed over my life with Papa – I did not want Beast to know how I had become. I did tell them that Papa saw me looking in the mirror.

"You looked at me?" Beast breathed. With a slight blush, I nodded.

I told of my father bringing Gaston home and revealing to him about the mansion and Beast. I left out all of the abuse – it was written clearly on my body.

"He gathered men up and convinced them that Beast would come and kill them to get me back. And then – well, then we were here, and you know what happened after that." There was silence for a moment before Mrs. Potts spoke again.

"Well, at least everything turned out all right." I smiled, and we continued our celebration.

The first rays of light were just shining over the treetops as I looked at my father's grave. I did not know where they had buried Gaston; I would never ask.

I looked at the ground, trying very hard to feel sorry for my father's death, but it evaded me. After all, it was his death that had secured my place with Beast; I knew in my heart, too, that Papa had wanted to die. His last word had told me all I needed to know.

As selfish as it was, I was happy to finally be free.

"I think we should all get some rest," Mrs. Potts suggested lightly. It was my turn to tense up against Beast; I did not want to leave his side.

"I'm not tired," I insisted with a smile. Mrs. Potts pursed her lips.

"How about a nice, relaxing bath then?" she urged. I sent an imploring glance at Beast, who laughed. "A few moments apart will not kill you," she insisted.

When I was up to my neck in warm water, I was glad I had listened to Mrs. Potts.

"I'm taking your dress to be washed, dear," she called; I couldn't even respond for the relaxing water that rushed over me. Soon, though, I began to miss Beast and hurried to wash myself and get dressed. As I plaited my wet hair, it hit me.

I rushed from my room, desperate to find Beast. I ran to where he waited in the den; his damp hair and now correctly-sized clothing told me he had partaken in a bath as well.

"I had to love you," I blurted; he grinned slyly. "Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded.

"If I had told you that to break my curse you had to love me, you would have reacted in one of two ways. You either would have tried to love me out of pity or you would have been frightened off by my blunt words. Either way, it wouldn't have worked. You had to love me because you loved me, not because you felt obligated to."

"Well, I do love you," I said with a smile, pleased that I had finally figured out what I had done to break the curse.

"Will you come outside with me?" Beast asked, taking my hand in his. I nodded, though I was surprised when he led me to the ballroom instead of the front door. Soon, we were seated once again on the balcony that wrapped around the outside of the ballroom. The sunrise had painted the sky brilliant, vibrant colors; it was, in its own way, just as beautiful as the last night we had sat out here together.

"Mrs. Potts took your dirty dress yesterday," Beast began, reaching into his pocket, "and she found this." He held his palm out to me and I gasped.

"My – uh, well, your mother's necklace!" I exclaimed. Beast chuckled; my heart skipped a beat at the sound.

"It is yours, darling. I found another chain for it, since the locket itself was not damaged." He turned me slightly to clasp the necklace himself. "I must say, it is hard getting used to human limbs again." We both laughed as he flexed his hands. "But they are much more convenient." I turned so I was once again facing him and we smiled at each other. "I am so happy that you are back," he said gently, squeezing my hand.

"You know, we never finished our conversation that night," he continued. "I was going to ask you something – it's a bit more plausible, now, so I wonder if I might try again?" I nodded, breathlessly, as Beast slid off of his seat and landed neatly on one knee.

"What are you doing?" I asked, my heart pounding in my chest.

"Something that I have wanted to do for some time now. Belle, when you came here I was horrible – inside and out. Somehow, though, you changed me. You gave me hope when I had lost all meaning of the word. You loved me for who I became inside, despite the fact that I was a monster. I owe you my life – in more ways than one. Nothing would make me happier than to have you by my side, as my equal, for the rest of my life. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

He pulled a ring from his other pocket that had clearly been made to match the locket I was wearing. It was silver with a large sapphire surrounded by tiny diamonds. My breath caught in my throat and tears of joy fell from my eyes.

I had never thought that I would ever truly be able to marry someone simply because I loved them, but I was. I had found my home here with Beast – my soon-to-be husband.

"Of course I will marry you," I finally managed to say. He slid the ring onto my finger and pulled me in for another kiss; in that moment, I knew what true happiness was.

That evening, after we had both slept – our schedules off slightly from the events of the previous night – we left for the neighboring town. Mrs. Potts had thrown a slight fit when we told her that we did not want a fussy, lavish wedding, but she had finally given in. Beast and I went alone to a chapel in the night, where a very short, squat priest pronounced us husband and wife.

We were met with cheers and champagne when we returned home.

"Maybe Lumiere will get an idea from the master," Babette said coyly as she gave me a tight hug. It was very early in the morning when, my heart hammering in my chest, we made our way upstairs to become husband and wife in every sense.

That morning, as I lay bed watching Beast sleep, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed at my amazing luck. Somehow, everything had worked out perfectly. Somehow, I was married to my best friend – the love of my life. I snuggled into him and closed my eyes. However it had all happened, I wasn't going to complain.

"Let's go," he said suddenly one morning at breakfast.

"Go where?" My brow furrowed in confusion.

"Anywhere. Does it matter? You said you wanted to travel someday." I let out a giggle.

"I did say that," I agreed. "But we can't just leave."

"Why can't we?" he challenged. I took a bite of a croissant, hiding the fact that I couldn't think of a reason. He grinned smugly at me. "Come on," he groaned. "Let's go." A small smile crept onto my lips as I imagined it.

"Okay," I conceded softly. My husband beamed at me, still managing to make my heart flutter.

The next day, we began to pack. We decided to spend some time in Paris, as neither of us had ever been, before sailing to wherever we decided to go. Mrs. Potts had been slightly saddened by our announcement, but we assured her that we would be back.

"How could we not come back?" Beast had asked with a grin, pulling her into a hug. "After all, this is home."

"What can I call you?" I asked curiously as we packed.

"Whatever do you mean?" Beast replied.

"I can't keep calling you Beast," I said with a grin.

"Oh," he said, sitting on the bed with a frown. "I would rather not use my given name. That's not who I am anymore."

"How about René?" I asked, smiling. He let out a roar of laughter.

"René – reborn. I like it." We had a kiss to celebrate.

-Three months later-

The salty sea air tossed my raven hair. I tightened my grip on René's hand as we looked over the edge of the ship. The sunset was casting beautiful colors over the surface of the water. I snuggled into his chest, breathing in his clean scent.

"I hope I'm not sick again," I muttered. René laughed.

My excitement at finally having my own adventure had been marred slightly when I became seasick an hour after we embarked upon the ship. Still, though, as I stood arm in arm with René watching the seagulls dip and dive above the water, I couldn't help but feel thrilled. After years of dreaming and reading of adventures in books, I was finally going on my own.

"Are you sure you're not with child?" René asked with concern. It was my turn to laugh.

"I am sure," I told him. While I knew that we would both be blissfully happy the day our family expanded, for now I wanted time with him – alone. When we had children, we would raise them with love and understanding. A girl would be taught to think for herself and chase her dreams; a boy would learn to treat women with respect, as equals.

"Thank you," René whispered in my ear.

"For what?"

"Saving me."

I didn't answer but stared at the sun fading away over the horizon. With the falling of the sun, I closed one chapter of my life's story. As I prepared to begin the next chapter with René by my side, I knew that he was wrong. I hadn't saved him.

We had saved each other.

Author's note: PLEASE READ! (: I didn't put a note at the beginning like I usually do; I didn't want to interfere with the final chapter. If you never read another author's note again, please read this one!
I want to thank everyone who has read this story from the bottom of my heart! Whether you are someone who read months ago when I first published or you just found this story yesterday, THANK YOU. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with me. This is the first story I have ever seen to fruition, and I am so happy with how it turned out.
To my Betas: I love you. Thanks for keeping me sane!
To everyone: Please, please, PLEASE! When you are done reading this, please review this story. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a feedback whore; every review makes my day. Whether it's one word, one line, or an essay, please let me know what you thought of the story overall. Only with criticism can we grow as writers!
I am currently working on my other fic, 'Dying Magic.' If you want to read more of my work, watch for updates on it soon!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you! I hope it has been as great of an experience for you as it has been for me.


jonnilyne (: