Fic: Time Frames - Chapter 1
Summary: Rumpelstiltskin is bound to King Maurice’s service, and has known Belle her entire life. Things get more complicated when she reaches adolescence, and develops ‘feeling’s.
Cyprith prompted: monkey hugs
Andachippedcup prompted: Belle wants to rock climb
Belle decided at the age of seven that she didn’t want to marry Gaston.
She really, really didn’t.
And not even for all the reasons she didn’t want to marry Sir Frederick from two Realms over, or Prince James, the little boy who managed to fall out of her favourite tree while in a deadly battle with a squirrel.
That was just because they were boys, and didn’t smell good, and liked to do stupid things then cry about them a lot.
Belle didn’t want to marry someone who couldn’t think straight.
Belle had decided at six-and-a-half that she was a grown-up, thankyouverymuch, even if she was only three feet tall and soaked to the skin at the time.
Gaston was a grown-up, too: but not in a good way.
Belle didn’t want to marry Gaston, even when he gave her a daisy and asked her to, and her father talked to his father and decided that he was right.
She decided this the day that they were swimming with some of the village children. Belle was already stripped to her shift and a pair of liberated trousers, paddling in the shallows. She was getting up the nerve to go in deeper: today, she would make it to the deep bit of the lake, the bit where she had to stand on her tiptoes to keep her head up.
She’d wanted, today, to try rock-climbing, but papa had personally forbidden it.
Gaston was up on the sandbank: planning battle strategies with his little wooden soldiers like his father.
She called for him to join them, but he just sniffed.
Belle had discovered that there were two kinds of grown-ups: nice ones, and sniffy, stuffy, horrible ones.
Her papa, Gaston, and all the War Council men who kept coming into her home and shouting a lot, were in the second category.
Rumpelstiltskin, her papa’s pet imp-man, was the only grown-up she knew who fit in the first lot. Well, aside from mama, but mama was gone and Belle didn’t like to think about it. It made her all drippy and sad, and today was a happy day.
She liked Rum. She didn’t like Gaston.
But still, Belle was a friend to all things, her mama taught her that, and she wanted to be in the same lot as Rum. She wanted to stay nice.
So she tried to get Gaston to join in and play.
She made a sacrifice for her apparent future-husband, and dived right into the deep bit of the lake without even screaming.
She’d never done that, but it was worth it to make him join in and smile for once.
He didn’t look up.
That was when Belle had an idea. Carefully, cautiously, she swam up to the sandbank where Gaston was playing, and lay in wait. She stayed until her toes were numb and her nose was going runny from the cold before she struck, hoping to catch him by surprise.
Rum liked to surprise her, jumping out of thin air and tickling her when she wasn’t looking. It always made her laugh, and stopped whatever Bad Things were making her sad.
So she waited until Gaston was really, really distracted before she leapt from the water with a mighty battle cry and threw some of his little men into the water with her tiny fists. Gaston jumped backward, uttered a word papa didn’t think she knew but Rum explained to her, and then scowled.
“What’re you doing?” he asked, as if she’d just run him through with a sword or something.
“I am a Kraken from the sea!” she yelled. She was trying to explain, make him understand that this was fun. She was just trying to turn their different games into one big one, trying to get him to play with the rest of them.
She couldn’t understand why he was staring at her like she had three ugly heads.
“You’re an idiot, and you’ve ruined my soldiers!” He replied, without a hint of a smile, and then grabbed the rest of his men like she’d drown them too and stomped off back to the castle.
That’s when Belle decided that she really, really didn’t want to marry Gaston.
Belle’s twelfth birthday was the day she decided that she was in love.
Gaston bought her a diamond necklace, a flashy, gaudy thing, and it hung around her neck and weighed her down. While she wore it, she couldn’t change out of her dresses into her boots and trousers, couldn’t walk in the woods or paddle her feet in the river.
With this necklace on, she was claimed. And it made her neck ache.
So she spent her birthday wandering around the castle, her necklace hidden in her room where no one would ever see it, in the most comfortable and unsuitable for a princess of the Realm clothes she can find.
She found herself in Rumpelstiltskin’s tower: she always did.
He was spinning, the way she always found him when her father didn’t need anything. She was a little disappointed that he hadn’t been downstairs and easily findable on her birthday, of all days. He seemed to be going out of his way to hide from the Court.
“Why weren’t you there this morning?” she asked, as she slid around the door and into his study, and sat herself down on the stool by his wheel.
“For what, dearie?” his eyes were on the straw in his hands, and not on her.
“For my birthday breakfast. I had to keep listening to Gaston and his father drone on and even papa was bored. You should have come and exploded something.”
“I was busy.” He replied, and she saw it, the moment his expression melted and became the imp-man who had been her best friend since she was four years old.
So she was smiling when she leaned in, excited, and asked, “Oh, doing what?”
“Ignoring spoilt little princess and their birthday parties,” he teased, and finally looked at her, warm wickedness in his opaque eyes.
She stuck her tongue out at him, childishly, “You’re just jealous.”
“Of what, dearie?”
“The whole castle came out to celebrate me.”
“If it was all so grand and shining, dearie, then why are you not out there enjoying it?” he asked, and there she felt it, the strange little shimmer of connection that kept her returning to this tower, kept her from being out there in the world with Snow and Aurora, who were visiting from their kingdoms especially.
“Didn’t you hear me? There’s droning going on.”
“Well up here there’s only an old, cantankerous monster and his spinning wheel.” He replied, but he didn’t sound his merry self, “Why ever would you choose that?”
“You’re more fun than you think you are.” She smiled, and it felt real for the first time all day. It was hard to smile when you felt everything resting on a heavy and uncomfortable and altogether too bright diamond necklace.
“I highly doubt that. You just have very poor taste.” He sniffed, “I’ve corrupted you.”
“Yep!” she grinned, “So, what’d you get me?”
He watched her for a moment, sizing her up, and then obviously decided that enough was enough. He reached down into the basket at his feet, and drew out a long loop of golden thread.
Although, on closer inspection, it was a cluster of threads all plaited and woven together.
“I told you I was busy,” he grinned, “Happy birthday.”
She tried not to squeal like a little girl, really, she did. Because Belle has been a grown-up since she was six-and-a-half, and twelve was the kind of age when people started to notice.
But it was so perfect, beautiful and simple, with a tiny little green-blue jewel hung from the very centre.
So she gave up the fight, and cried out in happiness, threw her arms around his neck and hugged him like a tiny child with a soft toy. It was so much better than Gaston’s handful of rocks, something precious and magical and hers. Not a down payment, nor a promise: just a few golden threads, woven together.
He looked at her with such warmth, such startled affection, as he helped her secure her new necklace around her throat, that her heart gave a little flutter.
Her skin started to flush – which was most embarrassing, because grown-ups didn’t blush when their imp-man friends gave them presents – and her heart raced, and her skin felt oddly tingly where his fingers had brushed.
It was all very peculiar.
And very much like what happened in those books she and Snow had snuck from her new step-mother’s library, the kind papa didn’t approve of.
“Now,” he smiled benignly, sweetly, as if he hadn’t noticed at all her little episode, “Hadn’t you better be getting going? Lots of parties to attend, after all.”
“Y-yes,” Belle didn’t lose words, ever. She was the kind of girl that people wished would be speechless sometimes, just so they could have five minutes of peace. But somehow, her words were eluding her, “Of course. Yes. Yes.”
She stood, awkwardly, all arms and legs, and fled the room without meeting his somewhat perplexed gaze.
She described the encounter to Snow later – when she was done making cow-eyes at Prince James, who was too busy discussing swordplay with Gaston to notice anything anyway – and they agreed to consult the books again.
Of course, in this version Rumpelstiltskin was a knight of her father’s Court, and even then Snow was sworn to secrecy.
And so it was that, on her twelfth birthday, hidden under her covers with a lamp and one of Snow’s liberated books, Belle discovered that she was in love.
Rumpelstiltskin noticed an awful lot of things, and yet pretended to see very little.
It was easier, that way, he found. For the King to be completely unaware of his true power, his true intelligence, the true force of his will. That way, one day, when the dagger was unguarded and he made his move, no one would see him coming.
It also meant that his demands were small and inconsequential, and Rumpelstiltskin’s guards were inadequate at best.
But Belle knew different, didn’t she? She always had, bright little thing that she was. The only one in the castle who could always see through any and every glamour he designed.
That, of course, was his reason for allowing the girl to befriend him.
Nothing at all to do with her bright, questioning, trusting little eyes, or the curious way she cocked her head to the side like a little bird when she listened; her loose-limbed, entirely genuine monkey hugs or the way she had never, not even once, been afraid of him.
No, it was just so she wouldn’t rat him out when he worked around one of her father’s orders and broke a few rules.
Still, Rumpelstiltskin notices things, and it was hard to ignore how strange she had started acting.
It had been gradual, the strangeness. Coming and going in fits and starts, awkward and yet unrelenting. It had started when she turned twelve, with just a few odd moments here and there when she wasn’t quite herself.
Once upon a time, Rumpelstiltskin was the father of an adolescent.
Granted, Bae had been a boy, and he was a fair bit quieter and more sensible than this girl-child, who would have ridden dragons if her father let her, if she could find one in the right shade of blue.
But still, the signs of growing pains were there, and he assumed that that was all.
All teenagers grew up awkwardly, all sullen frowns and gangly legs and unpredictable emotional outbursts.
He assumed that’s soon she would find some drippy prince to fawn over, and have little time for her father’s pet sorcerer anymore. All children lost their imaginary friends at some point or another.
And yet, even as she grew away, Belle always seemed to come back.
He tried not to be pleased that she was never without her gold-thread pendant. It seemed at least one little sign that the child he’d been so fond of wasn’t gone forever.
She was useful as an ally, yes: like all little girls with good lives, she had her father wrapped around her delicate little finger.
But she was also the only friend he had in this place, and he’d lost far too many people to age, far too quickly.
Such was his relief that she didn’t seem to be adopting that sulky, embarrassed, holier-than-thou attitude teenage princesses were renowned for, that he’d missed certain other things about her. Changes that, perhaps, he had been happy to remain oblivious to.
She was and always would be little Belle, who stole her cousin’s trousers to secretly go exploring, and swam in lakes pretending to be a sea monster. The girl who had once adopted a swearing, hissing, mangy old tomcat as her baby for a whole month, before Rumpelstiltskin quietly turned him back into the cobbler he once was and sent him on his way.
She forgave him for that eventually: even at eight years old, Belle hadn’t been good at holding grudges.
So he didn’t think anything of it when the girl in question, now fifteen and finally outgrowing her pubescent awkwardness, arrived at his study door and knocked their secret sign.
He knew it was her: the magics on that door could have identified – and stopped, if needs be – the Blue Fairy herself if she tried to come inside.
Still, the sign was another holdover from her childhood, and it made her happy.
Why that alone was a reason to do anything in Rumpelstiltskin’s book was a feeling he was all too happy to ignore completely.
“Come on in, dearie, it’s open!” he called, and even spun on his spinning stool to smile as she came in.
It had to be admitted, that was quite a dress she was wearing. All golden silk and flowing skirts: the kind of dress princesses wore.
She had closets full of them, and detested every one.
At least, she had when she was five.
Of course, this dress was not a dress for a five-year-old. It showed rather too much décolletage for that, exposed far too much of her shoulders and collarbone.
She blushed as he looked at her and, oh, that was new.
And alarming: she was looking at him with those are-you-impressed calf-eyes most girls seemed to save for their chosen princes. The one no one – not even his wife, once upon a time, because village girls were more practical and straightforward than spoilt little princesses – had ever directed at him.
Belle was fifteen when Rumpelstiltskin realised he had a problem on his hands.
Things escalated rather quickly from there, much to Belle’s utter frustration.
The night of the Summer ball had been terribly hopeful. She’d come to his room, for goodness sakes, and despite all her teenage dreaming had expected nothing more than a pat on the head and an assurance that ‘you look lovely, dearie, as always’.
She’d gotten a sly, speculative look, which had covered what she clearly identified as slack-jawed astonishment.
And fifteen was old enough in some countries to marry, although she hoped Gaston didn’t know about that. Of course, that would require him acknowledging anything beyond battle strategies and fencing, and the existence of cultures beyond their own, and Belle was, for once, thankful for her fiancé’s ignorance.
Still, after the Summer ball, Rumpelstiltskin started acting strange.
Stranger than usual, which by ordinary standards would be downright odd.
He was almost never in his room when she came to see him. If he was in there, he was on his way out, needing to go sort out the leaky roof in the stables, or advise her father on his next battalion movement.
The ogres had been beaten back years ago, but her father had been a warrior since he could walk and old habits die hard.
They were still friends, always and forever. But now, they seemed to only be so when there were people around.
Lots of people, most of whom were keeping a surreptitious eye on the pair of them.
It didn’t stop her from staring at him when he wasn’t watching, from hanging on every precise and somehow magical word that fell from his lips as he explained the elemental strategies of destruction magic to an over-mighty warlord. She laughed harder than maybe she should have when he quipped about something comically nasty and shocked every Lady in the room for his own amusement.
She couldn’t focus on anything else when he was around: there was a tingle of something sweet and warm that rushed down her spine whenever he smiled at her.
So she started to devise plans to work around this sudden change. Because she had been officially In Love with him since she was twelve years old, and even if she hadn’t been, she missed his company.
They couldn’t talk like they used to with so many people around to overhear.
It didn’t work, at first: for a sorcerer with near-unlimited powers, he really wasn’t great at getting a hint. She refused to believe that he was doing it on purpose: it was probably her father, trying to keep her away from bad influences now that she’s a young woman and not a little girl.
She finally resorted to sending him a note, in someone else’s handwriting: an urgent letter requiring his presence in the rose garden.
She made up something silly, something about poisonous thorns or man-eating flowers. She was too busy choosing an outfit to pay too much attention to her excuse: just because she still loved her shirts and trousers, didn’t mean she couldn’t also look pretty once in a while.
She picked the floaty blue sea-foam dress Ariel gave her as a birthday gift. It was clingy on top and flowy on the bottom, perfect and romantic and exactly like Snow’s step-mother’s books described.
The rose garden seemed the perfect scene for a first kiss.
Everything was perfect, and then he arrives.
“Am I in the right place?” he asked, treading lightly as he stepped just inside the walled garden, no closer than he had to be.
“That depends…” she smiled, hoped it looks coy, bit her lip, “Does it feel right?”
There were a hundred childish voices in her head asking what she though she was doing: Belle was a dragon-slayer, a Kraken from the sea, she didn’t copy lines from Queen Regina’s dirty novels in flower gardens.
But he was her favourite person ever, and she was In Love with him, and this was the way it was done.
He laughed, nervously, the high-pitched giggle that only he could do. “What are you doing here, dearie?”
“Belle.” She corrected him, as she realised he wouldn’t come to her and started to cross to him, “My name is Belle.”
“Yes, I know.” He smiled, like she’s a silly child, but the nerves in his eyes didn’t go away, “But it doesn’t answer my question, Belle.”
“I’m here to see you.” She smiled, “Aren’t you pleased to see me?”
“Of course I am: it’s always nice to see you.” He answered, and a little thrill of hope runs through her.
“Well, then…” she took one of his clawed and scaly hands in hers, felt the rush of electricity she always felt when they had any physical contact whatsoever.
“Well, what, dearie?” he asked, as he stared at their joined hands in something resembling shock.
“Belle.” She corrected, in what sounded to her like a sultry whisper. She hoped it sounded like that to him, too.
“I think ‘dearie’ is good for now.” He replied, as he gently disentangled his fingers from hers, “Don’t you?”
“No, I don’t.” she looked at him, really looked at him, and worried that maybe she did something wrong. Maybe he’d been avoiding her for a reason: maybe he knew she liked him and was afraid to turn her down.
“Why not?” he asked, striding past her, hands whirling in his familiar dramatic motions, dancing in the air, “Too common and petty for such a high-born lady?” he spun to face her, finger pointed in her direction, but his smile was gently teasing and not malicious.
“No,” she smiled and swirled her skirt with one hand, “But we know each other, Rum. And I’m not a little girl anymore.”
“Well, dearie,” he smirked, and she tried not to shiver and become a puddle of goo on the floor, “I can see that.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
She sighed, frustrated, threw her hands up and abandoned all pretence of flirtatious subtlety. Belle was never very good at such things, anyway. “With this? All of this?”
“All of what?”
She picked up the hem of her skirt and threw it back down again, gestured to the roses climbing all around them, “This is romantic, jackass!”
He paused for a moment, and she wondered if he truly didn’t understand all that she was trying to do. Then he relaxed, and his smile was easy and all too platonic, and her heart sinks like a stone.
“Don’t ‘oh Belle’ me!” she protested, “I’m not a little kid anymore, you know.”
“I know,” he nodded, humouring her, smiling wide like he was laughing at her, “But I’m old enough to be your great-great-great-great-grandfather, and even if I wasn’t, you’re fifteen and engaged to that great lump of a boy who likes beating things with swords. Remember?”
“Gaston’s… not you.”
His eyes were heartbroken for a moment, and the glimmer of hope that had been dying with every word flared back into life. Then he shook it off, and his smile was back and he was shaking his head, saying, “Surely, that’s a good thing.”
“No.” she rejected that notion entirely. You don’t live in an In Love state with someone for three years without knowing that your real fiancé doesn’t measure up, “I love you!”
And then she wanted to die, because of course he’d heard that, and now he was going to mock her and then avoid her forever.
“Oh.” He was frozen to the spot, staring at her like she was someone he’d never seen before. “You’re too young for that, aren’t you?”
“Not one bit.”
“Then…” he sighed, twiddled his fingers, his thinking-face in full force, “I’ll make you a deal.”
That was more like it, “Okay, what’re the terms?” she sidled up to him, and he took her shoulders and held her back. She tried to ignore the warmth radiating across her chest from his palms on her bare skin.
“Well, you father has forbidden me to leave the castle without permission, and I have certain… business to attend to elsewhere. Convince him to let me come and go as I please.”
“And? What do I get out of this?”
“A kiss for your sixteenth birthday.”
She felt she might faint.
“Deal?” his eyes sparkled, but his tone was serious.
“Deal.” She didn’t whimper. Of course not: that would be stupid.
He beamed at her, and she should be frightened by the strange ugliness of his face. But all she wanted to do was kiss him, and convince him to move his hands down from her shoulders and to… other places. Places that were tingling and begging for his touch.
But then he vanished in a cloud of smoke and glitter, and she was left staring at her sparkling palms, dazed and alone in the rose garden.
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