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“You have to go to him.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Belle said softly, before picking up her yellow skirts resolutely.

At the balcony door, she turned around, her gloved hand resting against the doorframe. “Aren’t you coming? I wouldn’t ever dare enter the West Wing without you.”

The Beast stared as Belle stood haloed in light, yellow fabric glinting as gold, and he felt himself stand up and follow her as if she was the sun.

Belle kindly ignored his distraction. “If I can bring back a rattle,” she began, fast and animated, “What’s not to say I cannot bring a person with me. It’s been on my mind ever so long. The limits could be endless! It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Imagine! How Mrs Potts will fuss, Papa will grow sick of tea instead.”

“Belle,” Beast interrupted, distracted and clumsy.  “I meant you can be free. Take Philip and go.”

She halted unexpectedly, and he almost plowed into her in the middle of hallway. As close now as they had been on the dance floor. It was unexpected, and perhaps had made it easier to let her go. You can’t lose what you never had, and why had he ever thought he could keep her.

Belle bit her lip, her brown eyes, large and soulful, trained on him like he was a puzzle to solve.

He waited for the final piece to fall, and have her sigh in relief.

“It’s already dark,” she said instead, like he was particularly dim-witted. “I don’t wish to meet the wolves again. That wouldn’t stop me, but I made a promise.” She grinned up at him. “And I never could resist a good book.”

Belle turned again, quickly making her way to the tower with the Beast on her heels. She didn’t pay any mind to the broken furniture, not to the dust, even if clung to her pretty dress, and ignored the paintings entirely as they entered the forbidden room. She was on a different mission this time.

”You could stay there,” he tried again, voice rumbling as he couldn’t quite believe her flippancy.

”I’d make an awful nurse,” Belle countered, opening the heavy cover. The rose glowed at the pedestal next to it, but Belle had glanced at it only once.

”That isn’t true.”

You were an awful patient. You had limited exposure.” She flipped another page, before an earnest look softened her. “I feel safe here, it’s become something of a home.”

The Beast stepped closer, claws scraping against the tile. “And it always will be.”

Belle looked up at him, face tilted. The darkness hid the smile and her blushing cheeks. Then the moment passed.

”No buts,” she warned him. “Please request Mrs Potts to make up another guest room.”

The Beast turned around then, half-certain that he would never see her again. “One to befit a king,” he promised, and he would. If magic would allow him this kindness. If Belle chose to return with her father, he would be sure she’d never regret it.