Fic: Rabbits on the Run - Chapter 6
Calonari prompted this picture
AU: Belle trades away her unborn child to Rumpelstiltskin in return for her freedom.
Rabbits on the Run
Regina Mills comes to see her, one morning in March.
Everything is brighter these days, warmer and sunnier. Gold smiles openly in the hallways, and Rose has started to sleep through the night, and everyday things are less dark, a little closer to the life she wanted for her daughter.
Belle can tell a monster from their smile. Mayor Mills has a mouth full of needles and dragon smoke, but her smile is warm and sweet as honey.
“I don’t know if we’ve met, dear, I just wanted to introduce myself.”
“Hello, Madame Mayor.” Belle sticks her hand out, formally, for the Mayor to shake. She hasn’t crossed the threshold yet, she can still be banished without a word.
“You already know me?”
“Mr Gold has told me, and my papa voted for you.”
“Ah. Well, you can call me Regina, dear.”
“That’s… kind of you, thank you.” She smiles, and feels a sudden sunburst of joy to be able to use her new name, “I’m Belle.”
The Mayor’s smile twists for a second, and there’s a flash of something that’s not quite worry, not quite fear in her dark eyes. But then it’s gone, and she’s smiling with all her teeth, and Belle isn’t sure what at all just happened.
“A pleasure. There was… something else, actually, that I wished to discuss. Would you mind if I just came inside for a spell?”
“Um,” truth be told, Belle doesn’t want this snake-eyed woman within a mile of her home. She’s not sure why, perhaps because she knows of Mr Gold’s dislike of the woman, and she follows his judgement. Perhaps because she’s seen that hungry-eyed, superior look before, on the face of another woman with power over her, and she doesn’t need another enemy, “Okay.”
She stands aside, and Regina brushes past her. To her credit, she doesn’t choose a seat in the living room without permission, as the Mother Superior did. But then, the Mayor is still establishing her power, trying to gain her footing here.
So it falls to Belle to lead them into the dining room – they can have a table to separate them, and it’s closer to the door for a quick escape – and fetch the apple juice she has in a pitcher in the kitchen.
She’s never been more thankful for Astrid. The nun had decided that it was time for her Sisters to meet Rose, and they were all meeting – in secret, because even Astrid could tell that the Mother would not approve – at Granny’s.
Belle trusts Astrid with everything, and today she truly has.
But even if the Mother Superior tried something – and how could she, with Gold so firmly in Belle’s corner? – Belle still has a feeling Rose is safer with Astrid than in this house, with Regina’s gleaming smile.
“What did you want to discuss, Regina?” she asks, and keeps a bright and courteous smile in place.
“Your living arrangements, dear,” she replies, “I’ve heard some rather worrying news from concerned sources that things are not… as they should be. I’d like to help.”
Belle wants to upend the table, and hurl daggers at the woman’s throat.
Because where was she when she was unemployed, living off cup-o-ramen, with George’s accusations ringing in her ears?
Where was she when she was being hauled out of cafes by her arm, and humiliated in the street? When she was running for her life in the early morning, alone and homeless and pregnant?
She feels sick to her stomach, the idea that this woman feels she can be caring and controlling now, when she didn’t give a rat’s arse six months ago.
“My living arrangements are wonderful, thank you. I have no idea how someone could believe otherwise.”
Regina’s eyes lose their warmth, turn cold and hard, and oh, this is her natural expression. Emotionless smile and dead eyes. Snakelike.
“Someone smashed your front window about a month ago.”
“That’s kind of old news, don’t you think?”
“Well, there’s also the George Gaston case that’s re-emerged. The man you’re living with… your employer, I believe? He’s dangerous, Belle. He’s not a person you want around a child.”
“He’s a good man, Regina, really.” She tries the technique that failed on the Mother Superior, to pour the affection she feels into her tone and pass it along, “He’s never been anything but a true gentleman, and he’s wonderful with Rose.”
She knows it’s true as she says it: in all her time here, he’s never said a harsh word, never raised his voice, not to her at any rate. The only thing he’s ever done was to George, and that wasn’t exactly unprovoked. Or undeserved, for that matter.
“That may be, but he still broke his own window and beat a man half to death in the street.”
Belle is stunned, “He didn’t break the window; George did. He threw a brick.”
“Perhaps that’s only what your ‘gentleman’ employer would like to think. Don’t forget, Belle, there are people in this town who have known him far longer than you have. He’s dangerous and violent, as you should have seen by now.”
“George slapped my face in front of our daughter,” Belle says mouth open in utter shock, “I know what Gold did was wrong, but his intentions were good.”
“Stockholme Syndrome,” she murmurs, and there’s such glee in her smile even as her tone is concerned and caring, “So tragic.”
“You’ve been trapped here so long, that you can’t see when someone tries to rescue you.”
“Mr Gold rescued me.”
“From a happy adoption for your daughter and a safe, warm life in a convent. Yes, what a hero.” Her voice drips poison and sarcastic sneer, and Belle wants to slap her.
“You spoke to the Mother Superior.”
Regina’s tone becomes a little sharper, the wounded voice of a misunderstood friend “Belle, I’m trying to help you. No one wants to steal your baby in the middle of the night: we want to give her her best chance, the same as you do.”
“Her best chance is where she is loved. No one could love her more than I do, no one should be without her mother.”
Regina’s fist clenches, but she forces relaxation into her tone and smile, “Don’t forget, dear, that you’re speaking to someone who knows what they’re talking about. I adopted my son through Mr Gold; I am his mother. I love him more than I could have imagined.”
“Then you understand: please don’t take her from me.” Belle doesn’t want to beg for Rose’s life, for the right to hold the only thing she’s ever really cared about in her arms, but she will.
“You misunderstand me. I love Henry because I chose to have him. By all accounts, you were in no fit state to have a baby when you did, and I know for a fact that you have no stake in this house. A life of uncertainty is no life for a child.”
“I love her. Everything else is a technicality.”
“Oh, yes. Food, shelter, clothing. Mere trifles when compared with true love.” The Mayor sneers, and Belle wonders what she did to deserve the hatred in her eyes.
“My daughter’s circumstances are none of your business.”
“On the contrary,” Regina stands, places hands flat on the table and looms over her prey, “The owner of his house is a violent criminal, who should be doing time for grievous bodily harm. And it is clear to me now that you are mentally and emotionally unstable, that Rose would be safer with someone… else.”
And with that, she turns and sweeps out, the door slamming shut behind her.
Gold finds her an hour later, when he comes home to collect something he’s forgotten, and is by her side in a moment, “What happened, Belle?”
She’s sobbing: she’d sat in shock for God knows how long, staring at the wood grain and imagining a whole other life for Rose, with a faceless, cookie-cutter family, and no love at all.
But now she sobs; huge, body-wracking things that shake her bones and burn her eyes, as she clings to the man she once thought a dragon.
He strokes her hair, and stiffens when she chokes the name ‘Regina’.
“Did she threaten you?” Belle looks up at him with wide, tearstained eyes, and nods, biting her lip to keep from howling, “What did she say?”
“She-” Belle swallows, and tries to drag some of his strength, his calm and composure, into her body, “She said you were a violent criminal, and I was insane, and something about Stockholm syndrome, and… Oh God!” she collapses, boneless, and he catches her as she falls.
He holds her up, grabs his cane and helps her across the hallway to the living room, so she can relax on the couch. He has a feeling she needs comfort, right now.
“There, now, Belle… what is it, love, what did she say? What do I have to do?”
“She’s going to take Rose away,” She whispers, with a trembling certainty, “She’s going to steal away my baby.”
Gold wants nothing more than to storm across town to the Mayor’s black and white nightmare of an office and rip her screaming, bile-coated throat out.
But that’s not how the game is played.
So he swallows, hard, and rocks Belle’s trembling little body back and forth, and tries to keep his murderous, raging anger under tight control. That’s not what she needs, right now, not at all. She needs someone to hold her hand and keep her together. She needs a white knight, not a dark sorcerer in mottled, rotting armour.
“Shh, shh,” he murmurs, “Don’t worry, she won’t manage it.”
“Oh, really?” she looks up at him, and she’s even beautiful when she’s red and blotchy and covered in tears, “One contract and she was supposed to be gone. I didn’t even sign it, Gold, you know that. How can I stop her this time?”
“Well, first of all, we have our new contract, don’t we? Hmm?”
She seems a little calmed by that, as she nods, “The old one… where is it?”
“In a drawer upstairs.”
“You didn’t shred it?”
“Oh, no. I thought you might need it should that… nun ever come by again.”
“Okay…” he can see her quick little mind at work, looking for boltholes and safe spaces and ways around. One day, he swears, she won’t need that little talent anymore, “So at least we have legal reason why I’m here. Employment.”
“But she’s…” she sighs, the wind gone from her sails and replaced by despair, “She can still declare me an unfit mother. She has the power to do that: I’ve heard the stories.”
“Well then, there’s one thing left to do.” He grins, as though all their problems are solved, “We’ll take you to Archie Hopper in the morning, get your pretty little head all checked out, and have a certificate to prove it.”
And she’s giggling, now, the manic little giggle of a parent on the edge of insane worry, of anguish. He sang that song for centuries.
“Yes, yes, and then she’ll stop!”
“She’ll have to, eventually. I’ll speak to the Sheriff as well, in the end, law enforcement will have to have some sway.”
“The Mother Superior set her up to this,” she says, quietly, as she settles herself against his shoulder, “I don’t know why, but she hates me.” She sighs, “Everyone seems to hate me, these days.”
“Not everyone.” He mutters, into the top of her chestnut, cherry-scented hair, and she’s looking up at him with massive blue eyes, desperate to believe him.
Then, completely out of the blue, she presses her lips against his and sighs into his mouth. She kisses him so softly, so sweetly he thinks he might die, that he might already be dead, that he must have done something saintly to deserve this.
It takes him a moment, but then his hands are cupping her jaw, and his tongue runs along her lower lip, and she sighs again and crumples into him, and oh Gods this is wrong.
She tastes like cinnamon and lemons, warm and strong but clean: he’ll keep the memory of her taste locked away in his mind, someplace safe and warm.
He pulls away, and shakes his head, “You’re in shock, dearie,” he says, “You’ll regret kissing old, gnarled toads come morning.”
“You’re nothing close to a toad.” She objects, and leans in to try to kiss him again.
But he pulls back, and moves his hands down to safe areas on her back and waist, and pulls her in so he’s just holding her, her head against his heart.
It doesn’t help when she starts nuzzling his neck.
He’s started to drift off, convinced that she’s done the same, the day having been a tough one for her already. But then there are lips on the skin of his throat, just above his collar, and she’s kissing every inch of skin she can find, and he wonders just how bad taking advantage of a desperate single mother can really be.
“Belle, love,” he murmurs, and feels her wicked grin against his skin, “Stop.”
“Why?” she looks up at him, and behind the false bravado of her smile there’s a genuine fear of rejection. He has to tread lightly, so he doesn’t hurt her even more, “Don’t… don’t you want to?”
He breathes out, and it comes out a little ragged, “If you only knew how much… let’s just say, you wouldn’t be asking that question.”
“Oh,” she smiles, bites her lip, and tries to resume her work on his neck. He stops her with a little shift of his shoulder.
“But that doesn’t mean I will. Belle… you’re alone, and frightened. You need a friend, and I’m happy to be just that… but we can’t go any further. Not like this.”
She’s about to ask something else, when the doorbell rings. They freeze, neither of them willing to move, afraid that Regina has returned. But then there’s a voice, “Hello? Belle?”
Belle sighs in relief, and relaxes, “It’s open, Astrid!” she calls, and the little nun’s nervous face pokes around the door and smiles.
“Oh, sorry. I came to return your baby, all nice and in one piece.” She comes around and hands Rose back to her mother. Belle visibly relaxes when she has her daughter back in her arms, and coos and smiles down into her wide blue eyes.
But then she settles back against Gold’s chest, and his arm automatically wraps around her, and Astrid’s doe-eyes widen for just a moment.
“Well, ah… the girls all love her, of course. Mira and Tatiana want to visit sometime soon, if possible, they can’t get enough of her.”
“Oh,” Belle’s face flushes in pleasure, “That’d be wonderful, of course they can come by, anytime they like.”
Gold wrinkles his nose at that: fairies aren’t his favourite things. But as he remembers, their Princess and the Sugarplum fairy were two of the better ones: they’d at least had a sense of humour when he’d come to wreak havoc.
“Okay, I’ll pass that along. I’d um… I’d better be going…” she picks herself up, and makes to leave. A curious little look passes between the pair before Astrid shoots him a final, parting smile – okay, maybe that one little nun had something about her – and leaves.
Astrid looks like she’s about to explode, bouncing in her seat and fidgeting with her napkin. So Belle takes her time choosing what she wants from Granny’s menu, chats with Ruby as she orders, and settles Rose in her pram beside their table before she says a word.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” she asks, as if she doesn’t already know.
“Let’s start with what happened two days ago,” Astrid’s voice drops to a low and urgent, almost scandalised whisper, “What were you doing when I got there?”
“I was sitting in the living room.” Belle replies, calmly. She loves Astrid like the fussy, caring sister she’d never had, but it is fun to torture her.
“With Mr Gold wrapped all around you!” the nun finishes the sentence for her, “What happened? Did he drug you or something?”
“What? No. I mean… he’s my friend, Astrid. I told you that.”
“I knew you two were getting on better these days…” she worries on her lower lip, “But… Belle, he’s… a friend is one thing, but he’s a bit… evil.”
And Belle has to snort a little laugh into her milkshake. Because of all the people she’s had to deal with in the past year, Gold is perhaps one of the least truly evil among them.
She has no illusions that he is a good person: the incident with George certainly proves that this isn’t a calm and caring angel she’s rooming with. But he is honest, and honestly looms large in Belle’s world. She’s never once felt that he’s showing her a face other than his true one: that is a great comfort all on its own.
He’s never come to her to tell her she can’t raise her own child.
He’d tried to take Rose away the day she was born, but only because the Mother Superior paid him to, and told him that the mother was fine with it.
After that, he has never once made any move at all to separate them: in fact, he is still the only person to ever promise otherwise.
At least he’s never tried to do anything for her own good.
Belle is so sick of being pitied, she feels physically ill.
So she looks Astrid in the eyes, and lets a slow smile show across her face, “Well… maybe just a little, but I kind of like it.”
“What? He’s… I don’t know… real, I guess. Honest. He’s not trying to convince anyone that he’s more or less than himself. Well, okay, maybe he tries to come off bigger and badder than he really is but… he was there. I was going completely insane yesterday afternoon and he just… he held me and let me ruin his suit and I was sobbing, Astrid. I was crying so hard, I was gross, but he was so nice to then I kissed him and-“
“Wait, you kissed him?”
“Yeah…” a dopey little smile comes to her face. He’d been right, of course: she was vulnerable, and it would have been wrong to go any further then and there, a big awful mistake.
But it was also his fault: did the man really have to smell so good?
“He ah, kind of took my breath away.” Astrid is bouncing in her seat again, practically clapping her hands in glee, “Then he decided that that was the moment to come over all noble, and pushed me away.” She grimaces, a little embarrassed, “Though I might have tried to push the issue a little…”
“Okay, okay,” Astrid calms herself as Belle watches, amused, “Right. Moving on from your salacious adventures – which we are not done with, by the way,”, Belle giggles, “There’s something else important here. You were sobbing?
Belle takes a deep breath, and scrutinises Astrid’s face, trying to gauge whether her friend can cope with the news. But Astrid has more to her than meets the eye, more iron in her spine than her soft brown doe-eyes and sweet little voice would let the world believe.
So Belle shuts her eyes for just a second, and marshals her emotions so she won’t break down into fearful shaking and crying like she did at the time, and begins her story.
She recounts every move Regina made, every word she said, and the parallels she drew with her own son, and she does so with her head high and tone firm and even. But she can’t hide the little shake in her voice as she describes the ice in the Mayor’s eyes as she made her threats.
And Astrid’s eyes widen more with every word, her slim little hand clasped around Belle’s in a strangely reassuring hold.
When she’s done, Belle takes a long drink of her hot chocolate, and leans down to check on Rose. Her daughter is awake and staring around, taking in the whole diner with wide, curious blue eyes.
This has become her safety mechanism: dealing with Rose, making sure she’s all right and settled and happy. It’s her distraction when she doesn’t want to look at the rest of the world.
She’s buried herself in her daughter, and perhaps she could be braver, face the world head-on. But of all the boltholes and sanctuaries she’s ever found, this is the best of all.
“Oh, Belle…” Astrid breathes, “Do you think she can do it?”
“I don’t know, Astrid. I mean… she’s the Mayor, you know? And she has a creepy amount of power in this town, more than she should, I think. If she put her mind to it…”
“But Mr Gold is hopeful?” The worry that had been in Astrid’s voice in their talk of him earlier is entirely gone: she can see, now, that he isn’t the real enemy here.
“He thinks we can work around it. I mean, I’m as sane as I’ve ever been, and he didn’t break the window, whatever Regina says, but…” she sighs, “He did do a number on George. And so he now has a criminal record for a violent crime, even if George was completely fine and the Sheriff’s not pressing heavy charges.”
“Is he going to have to do time?”
“No, the Sheriff doesn’t think so.” She can’t hide a little smirk; “She said something about community service.”
Astrid gets the image instantly, and sniggers, and Belle loses the control she’s had firmly in place ever since Emma mentioned the idea. The thought of Mr Gold, the town’s imposing and impeccably dressed worst nightmare, clad in a bright orange tabard picking up trash on the highway is too funny for words.
Of course, Mr Gold chooses that exact moment to enter the diner, and approaches the pair with the same sober expression he always wears in public.
They just laugh harder, “Something the matter, dear?” he asks, a little concerned, one hand on Belle’s shoulder.
Weirdly enough, that quietens her, “Yes, yes, sorry. I was just… nothing.” The heat from his palm radiates through her thin t-shirt, and Belle wonders what she’s started by allowing these thoughts entry.
She can’t stop thinking about their kiss: this is a problem.
Astrid is eyeing him speculatively, and Belle catches his perplexed little frown. And maybe he has drugged her, because she suddenly thinks that that little frown might be one of the most adorable things she’s ever seen someone other than Rose do.
“Are you ladies finished?” He asks, as he glances down at Rose who is staring up at him with wide eyes.
“Um, just about, yeah.” Belle replies, watching with a wide and uncontained smile as Gold says hello to her daughter, smile wider than any she’s seen him wear for anyone fully-grown, and Rose beams back, all sunshine and brilliance. Her little gurgle of laugher makes Belle’s heart twist, the way it always does when her daughter decides to be enchanting.
“Okay then,” He smiles to Astrid, who – to Belle’s utter mortification – gives an almost-saucy little wink, and waits for Belle to gather up her baby things and get ready to depart.
He even holds the door for her – good thing, because her hands are full trying to manoeuvre the pram outside.
“What was your matter with your friend, dear?” he asks, once they’re past the diner and walking down the street.
“Astrid? Nothing, why?” she can feel the blush rising in her cheeks, but hopes he doesn’t notice.
No such luck. She sees his interested little smirk, and wants the pavement to swallow her whole.
But his voice is mild as he replies, “She was giving me the most curious little look. Anything you’d like to share, love?”
He is enjoying watching her squirm.
She glares up at him, his smile wide and unrepentant, and resists the urge to smack him across the arm, “No, actually, just girl stuff.”
“Uh-huh,” he nods, but looked thoroughly unconvinced, “Right. Hair scrunchies and things.”
“Yes, only we’re adults and so have gone beyond the realms of the little girls on the kids’ channels. You need to watch more grown-up TV or something if that’s your go-to idea of how women talk.”
“So what were you talking about?” he presses, and his smile is almost a leer.
He’s being awfully flirtatious for the man who no less then twenty-four hours ago was nobly pushing her off of him and trying to be chivalrous.
“Regina, actually,” she says, at last, “I thought someone else needed to know the truth.”
His face clouds, the humour and merry spark gone from his eyes, “Ah. In case you need a babysitter?”
“I guess. She needs to know what she’s dealing with if she’s got Rose and Regina comes calling.”
“How about the Mother Superior? Does she know to watch out for her, too?”
“Of course not!” She replies, appalled he’d even consider the idea, “She’s followed her for most of her life: I can’t take that away from her.”
“She should know the truth.”
Belle stops, turns to him, hopes he’ll understand, “She’s not Rose’s mother.” She says, gently, “This wrong wasn’t done to her… And the Mother Superior…” she sighs, messes with her hair, frowning, “I don’t want to take that away from her. I can’t do that.”
“She has to find out sometime.” He comments, smirking at Mary Margaret Blanchard as she scuttles past, enjoying the flicker of fear that passes over her face.
Belle watches this happen and rolls her eyes, “You’re a troll.” She says, resisting the urge to thump his shoulder.
He turns to her, smiling but entirely baffled, “I’m sorry? What am I, dear?”
“I’m neither seven feet tall nor green and rancid, thank you very much.”
“Not literally,” she sighs, “You just enjoy winding people up for your own sick amusement.”
“Indeed.” He grins, entirely unrepentant, “You should try it sometime.”
“I happen to like being a nice, normal human being, thanks all the same.”
“It’s good to inspire a little random fear every now and then,” he smirks, “It’s good for the soul.”
“Hmmm,” they stop outside their destination, and she glances at the sign on the door with some apprehension, “Maybe you’re the one who needs therapy.”
“You don’t need it either, love,” he says, with a tenderness that makes her tremble. She’s got that feeling again, that crazy, maddening feeling she had yesterday in the sofa, like all she wants is to wrap her arms around him and never let go.
She leans up, and presses a kiss to his lips, just once, just lightly. She opens her eyes, and sees his closed, and can’t help but smile like Rose with her favourite stuffed animal.
“I’ll see you this evening,” she says, then opens the door and manoeuvres the pram inside, and leaves him watching her, stunned and smiling.
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- calonari said: ASTRID THE COCKBLOCKER
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