Fic: Time Frames - Chapter 3
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.
(otherwise known as awkward teen!Belle/Rumpelstiltskin)
This is the last chapter, except for the smutty epilogue that should hopefully be coming soon. But for all intents and purposes, this is the end. Enjoy!
He was never around anymore.
Never by his wheel, nor in his rooms, nor reading in the courtyards; Rumpelstiltskin was a ghost who haunted her home, unseen but certainly not unfelt.
She always arrived to dinner a moment too late, when he’d already excused himself or sent his apologies for not attending at all.
And she was always in the war room just after he’d left, or his messenger had arrived with some sort of advice or news from the front.
He was her personal ghost, visible and tangible to everyone but Belle herself.
She missed him, and not just because she relived every moment of his mouth on hers and his hands on her hips every night of her life. No, it was deeper than that.
She missed his smile and strange, giggling, trilling little laugh. She missed the wicked bite of his humour, and the way he alone looked at her like she was more than just a pretty girl in a ball gown.
The way he understood all of her, saw both the woman she was becoming and the girl she had been, once upon a time.
She still wore her goldthread necklace, light and shining around her neck.
But they had a deal, and Rumpelstiltskin hadn’t broken a single agreement in all his life, so far as she knew. He’d said that they could be together if she just stole something from her father, so he had to mean it.
She tried to just casually ask her papa about it, one rare day when they were seated together for luncheon and had a moment to talk. “Papa?”
“What… how did Rumpelstiltskin come to be in the castle?”
Everyone knew the story, about how the ageing warrior king turned the tide of the whole battle by summoning the Dark One to his side, and saved his kingdom and his pregnant wife in the process. No one, however, understood how.
“I summoned him, and bound him to our service.” Her papa shrugged his massive shoulders, “Not much more to tell, really.”
“But how? You don’t have a magical bone in your body, and neither does the rest of the War Council.”
“No. Magic isn’t something our people enjoy dabbling in,” he granted, “But this was special, and didn’t really require much of that enchantment, chanting mumbo-jumbo.”
“Why the interest?” he asked, without any suspicion, just puzzlement.
“Just… I don’t know. I guess it’s just coming to me now that I’ll be Queen one day, and might need to know how to do things like that. Gaston can’t do everything, after all.”
“Oh.” He nodded, missing everything she’d just done, every little manipulation. Mentioning her future, as his heir, was always the way to ignite the teacher inside him, the part that had longed for a son and yet was satisfied to mould his daughter and future son-in-law just as well, “Well, it was the Blue Fairy, actually. She came to us on the eve of our defeat, and told us where to find a dagger buried in the woods. All it requires is a little blood on the blade, and Rumpelstiltskin is bound eternally, until someone else performs the ritual.”
And suddenly, everything fell into place.
If she stole back the dagger, he would be free, could perform the ritual himself and be unbound, free to do as he pleased.
And she didn’t know how to feel about that, a moment’s doubt creeping in. If he were free to leave and never return, would he come back for her? Or would he just vanish into the woods, and leave her alone to marry Gaston become the Marchlands’ Queen?
He’d made her a promise. And that was always going to be her life, whether he was in her father’s castle for the next hundred years or left tomorrow.
“To be honest,” her papa continued, “I’m surprised he hasn’t found the dagger yet.”
“It’s almost as if he’s not even looking for it,” he mused, “Odd, really.”
“Why, where did you hide it?”
“Oh,” her papa grinned, a smile she didn’t often see on his face, wily and cunning, “I keep it on me at all times. Can’t be too careful.”
“Then perhaps he knows that, and sees that it’s useless.” She replied, her blood drumming in her hears, heart pounding, stomach coiling and twisting into origami knots.
“Perhaps.” Her papa agreed, and went back to his breakfast, turning the conversation to the arrangements for the Summer ball.
The next months passed like they were whales dragging hundred-tonne anvils.
Her father went on progress, and took the dagger with him. Her chance was gone until the winter, when he returned laden with gifts from lords in the countryside and kills from the hunt.
She would be eighteen in seven months, and she needed to work quickly.
She saw Rumpelstiltskin again, more and more, until it was almost like the good old days. It seemed that he preferred the castle in winter than in summer, and oh, she was glad of the company.
They didn’t speak of their deal, and her plotting and abiding anxiety helped her to keep her hands to herself.
It was like they’d swapped bodies, because the opposite appeared true for him. He always seemed to find a reason to guide her into the room with his hand on her lower back, to murmur something in her ear at dinner so that his breath whispered across her skin.
She was seventeen, and no longer the foolish child she’d been at fifteen, in the rose garden, or at sixteen when she’d let herself be guided by lust.
She’d been In Love with him for over half a decade, in his time away from her, his ghost-months, she’d learned restraint.
So she just smiled to him, coyly, bit her lip to keep from laughing at his wicked little jokes, and enjoyed the slight admiration in his eyes, the challenging little gleam.
But the more she held herself back, then the more he teased in subtle and unassuming ways, and the more desperate she became to fill their bargain.
If she was to learn to live her life with a man she could just about stand to sit beside at dinner, a man who was still really just a scowling and unpleasant boy with toy soldiers: a life without Rumpelstiltskin’s hands on her waist and voice in her ear, then she needed something to tie the two of them together.
She would need a good memory, if only to balance out all the times when she would have to lie beneath Gaston and hope all the Gods that she’d fall pregnant soon, so that he would leave her.
So one night in January, five months before her eighteenth birthday, Belle slipped a small sleeping draught into her father’s drink.
She helped him to bed, swore to the nurses that she would watch over him, keep him from harm. They scurried away with fluttering hands, none of the cowardly little things willing to take responsibility for a mysteriously unconscious King.
Belle knew he would wake within a few hours, right as rain and smiling, and that all of this would pass.
Except that he would be minus one dagger and one sorcerer bound to his service.
The moment of truth came when the entire castle was quiet, and the nurses were, sleeping, and Belle was watching her father’s face with something like grief in her heart.
Perhaps this was how her mama had looked, before she was ripped away.
But of course she couldn’t know, could never know, because Rumpelstiltskin had kept her in his tower and distracted her with pretty things, with magic baubles and pirate ships of upturned tables, while her mother lay sick and dying.
She never repaid him for that.
Nor for allowing her to accost him, a silly, flighty sixteen-year-old with a crush, convinced of love and happily-ever-afters. For being cruel when he had to be, for pushing her away and allowing her her choices, even when all she wanted was to give up every last one of them.
This was her repayment of that, this and one night under a canopy when she turned eighteen, one night of love before a lifetime of necessity and nothing more.
So she slipped her hand under her father’s tunic, and found the cold iron handle of the dagger, tingling with magic beneath her fingertips.
It slid easily from the sheathe, and then lay in her palms, dull and cold and yet still gleaming, still glowing warm with power. This was Rumpelstiltskin’s life, lying in her hands, and the reality of that makes her shiver hot and cold all at once.
For a few bright and glorious moments, she imagined cutting herself with the blade.
She could summon him to her side, and never be alone again. Her best friend, her almost-lover, on her arm for all eternity, and she his mistress, his Dark Lady. Gaston would run for the hills, marry some other girl, and Belle would be free.
His freedom for hers: the choice was hers to make.
She stared at the dagger, and knew her decision.
She’d picked the rose garden: of course she had.
Really, this was where all the trouble had started. It made sense to finish it here, too, to seal the second deal in the place where the first was struck.
This time, no frivolous little lies, and no false pretences. She said she needed to talk to him, in private, in the evening, and signed with her real name. So he knew what he was walking into when he entered the gate to the rose garden, and saw her standing there.
No sea foam silk or flirtatious little smile. His little Belle was dressed in an everyday kind of blue dress and a long green cloak that looked black in the darkness; her expression was grave and serious.
She was more woman than girl everyday, now, and he found he almost missed the little preteen child who had run into his study in stolen trousers and muddy boots.
That girl was still in her, somewhere; she was not dead or gone. She was just covered by a solid layer of adulthood, which hung less awkwardly every day on Belle’s slender frame.
“You said you needed to talk, dearie?” he watched her closely, tried to read her.
She had become good at discretion: he could read little from her expression, and she gave little away.
“Yes,” she pulled something from her belt, and it gleamed in the moonlight. His breath caught, as he watched his innocent little Belle caress his dagger in her hands, run her dainty, fragile fingers over the letters of his name. “I stole it from my father, just as you asked.”
“Wonderful,” he breathed and tried not to show how terrified and amazed he was in that moment.
He’d hoped and longed for this moment, teased her with what could be in the hopes that she would be spurred into action, that she would do as he asked. And here she was, having run his errand, and he didn’t understand the self-loathing guilt in his stomach.
“This is your bondage, isn’t it, Rumpelstiltskin? Your fealty?” he went still at that word, a human nightmare of an encounter so long ago sickening his stomach. But he nodded.
“Indeed. That is an object of evil, and it controls who and what I am.”
She nodded, “And if I give it to you, you will be free. You can leave and never return?”
“If you give it to me, then I will return for you on your eighteenth, for the night I promised. I never break my deals.”
“But you make no promises of life afterwards?” when did his Belle become so wise, so canny? He could see the warmth in her eyes, even covered by uncertainty and the distrust of experience. She wanted to trust him, believe herself in love with him, but how could she when she held his life, the essence of the violence of his nature, in her own pale and tender palms?
“I cannot control your fate, any more than I can mine while someone else holds that knife in your hands.” He responded, and took a step toward her, the draw of his freedom so close at hand too much to bear.
“That doesn’t answer the question. I need your word, Rumpelstiltskin: I give you this dagger and my family and friends all live.” She held her head like a hero, like a warrior queen, and there was no sign of uncertain girlhood about her now. She was not yet eighteen, but there was no more childhood left in this woman.
He grinned, nastily, “What, no promises of personal safety? You believe that, if I decided to destroy you, you could defeat me?”
He inched closer, so close, dancing toward her, but she didn’t move one inch backward. He could no more grab his dagger than she could destroy it.
“No.” she murmured, shaking her head, “I believe that you couldn’t destroy me if you wanted to. I love you, Rumpelstiltskin, and no matter how I age it won’t change. I believe that that’s enough.”
“And aren’t you a romantic little thing?” he smiled down at her, close enough to touch, “Your beliefs are charming, Belle, they truly are.”
“Promise the safety of everyone I care about, my family and friends and country.” She looked up without an inch of fear, just a sadness he cannot quantify, “Promise.”
“In return for my dagger?”
She nodded, “In return for this dagger, and all it carries with it.”
“Then I promise, my lady.” He swept a low and almost mocking bow, “That no harm shall come to anyone under your protection by my hand.”
“Then take it,” she held out her hands, and he plucked the dagger from her upturned fingers as if it were something small and meaningless, a simple rose, a symbol of love and not destruction, “And do what you will.”
And just like that, with a swipe of his finger along the sharpened silver edge, Rumpelstiltskin was free.
She had expected him to leave immediately, and he didn’t disappoint.
He kissed her slowly and softly in the garden, held her to him for just a moment, and then broke away with a wistful little smile and vanished into the darkness. As if he had never even existed, the fevered dream of an addled, girlish mind.
He didn’t return, not for days and weeks, and her father scoured the castle for his dagger, desperate to call his former pet sorcerer to his side, feverish with his desire to get the power back.
But it was nowhere to be found, and Rumpelstiltskin didn’t appear to reap vengeance or to take back his belongings. Not even the spinning wheel.
It remained untouched in his old study, gathering dust.
Belle spent her days up there, in the old room of her best childhood friend, in the abandoned home of the creature who had once been everything.
He would come back for her: this much she knew.
He didn’t break deals. And if he did, then she didn’t want him back.
But it didn’t stop her from dropping a couple of tiny, inconsequential tears on the burnished wood of the wheel, from spinning it and watching the motion with a singleminded intention to remember every joke and every game.
She’d expected, when he was gone and a part of the past, to dwell most on other aspects of their relationship. She’d expected to lie awake remembering his lips on her skin, his hands ghosting over her breasts over her dress, caressing her back and weaving in her hair.
But while those thoughts did exist, and she did miss the lust-darkened tone to his eyes, the heavy breathing and little moans into her mouth, it wasn’t the greatest pain of all.
She missed him in the sunlight of his tower, teaching her small-self to spin gold, laughing when instead she came out with copper. She missed his gentle jokes, and the way he told her, seriously, that Krakens didn’t just drown sailors but eat them too, so to be a proper one she’d have to chew Gaston’s toy soldiers as well as throw them in the river.
She missed the best friend of her childhood more than she missed the almost-lover of her adolescence.
And it surprised her, and made her ache with sadness.
He would return the night she turned eighteen, and form one more memory. And oh, how she longed for that night, how she needed him to kiss her again, to take everything she’d thrown at him for so long. To love her as she loved him, even for just one night.
But they would never have another daylight moment, another second of pure and happy friendship, basking in warm golden light.
Rumpelstiltskin was the Dark One, but he embodied summer sunshine for her as much as Gaston did a drizzly, grey day in January.
Eventually, as her birthday neared, her papa gave up the search and hired a hedge-wizard from town to cast curses and enchantments to keep Rumpelstiltskin out. Belle wondered if she was the only one who understood how truly fruitless such efforts were, but she didn’t say a word.
She wanted him to come back inside: why would she help to prevent that from happening?
But her eighteenth celebrations came and passed, and she danced with Gaston and accepted another heavy piece of jewellery, put it with all the other shiny, gaudy things. She giggled with Snow about Prince James’ abilities as a warrior, and watched Princess Abigail spend the entire night with Sir Frederick, eyes locked together like nothing else mattered.
And midnight came and passed, and though she stayed awake reading until the morning light, nothing happened.
The pain in her chest was deep and felt rather fatal, but she shrugged her shoulders.
Belle had been a grown-up since she was six years old, and now more than ever it really felt true. She felt her heart break, but she didn’t let it show. For who could understand the pain of a damsel when her monster didn’t come for her?
Rumpelstiltskin cursed every petty wizard from the Marchlands to Agrabah, but he couldn’t get through the gates.
No matter how hard he pushed, or how much magic he poured into the teleportation spell. He couldn’t get through the gates, and Belle’s party continued, and the fireworks burst overhead, and he broke his promise.
Maybe, he thought, as he tried one last desperate spell and failed, this was the mark of a person he loved. Maybe the only way Rumpelstiltskin could show devotion was through empty room and broken promises. Maybe that was his true legacy.
But his mind was quick, and his power unfettered, and so he started to plan.
He called in favours from witches and Ogre Kings, he brewed storms on the horizon and mixed spells from smoke and dragonblood.
Rumpelstiltskin concocted an entire war, legions and armies of dead soldiers – but this time truly, not dead and only sleeping, for he had promised Belle the safety of her people.
He stormed the castle with the dream of an army at his back. He had his Ogres pound down walls and stride through villages, knocking over the unconscious in their wake.
Rumpelstiltskin put on a show, and convinced all who beheld it – just enough to carry the news back home – that they were truly doomed, truly dying.
And then, three months after the fabricated invasion, he was called.
Not summoned, for the dagger still rested at his waist and there it would remain, but called. The voice of a King he should have murdered, an oblivious King saved by the intelligence and beauty of his only daughter, comes to him on the wind.
“Help, help! We’re dying, can you save us?”
They weren’t dying: they’d barely have to clean up when all of this was over. But he needs to get into that castle, he needs to fulfil his side of the bargain, and so he answers the call.
They’d let down the defensive spells: they’d have to, if they wanted his help.
None of the guards saw him as he whispered through, as he slipped around their gates clad in a powerful glamour. He stood in the war room until all hope was lost, watching Belle do all she could to hold her world together.
He hoped she could forgive him for this, when all was said and done.
No one died in this story, at least: a few bruises, perhaps, on farmers who fell wrong when they ware knocked asleep. But no real pain.
This was all he could do to get close to her, to fill his promise.
But he was also a showman, so he waited until the King slumped in his throne, until Belle crouched at his feet and lied, “He could be on his way right now, papa!”
That was when Rumpelstiltskin snapped his fingers, and opened the doors to the war room one by one, watched the alarm on the Council’s faces as each door burst open, as an invisible force drove through.
And that was when he took a seat on the throne, and removed his glamour.
Belle stared in absolute shock.
He’d actually come back.
But not for her, no, he was bound by another deal, a later one, to keep her people from harm. Did that extend to saving them from another – unexpected and brutal – Ogre War?
He slapped Gaston’s sword aside, and claimed a price was needed. His eyes and smile gleamed in malice, and she could see that he wanted to harm his old masters more than he wanted to save them.
But their deal still held, and she hoped to the Gods that he would keep to it.
“My price is her.” He pointed straight at Belle, who stared in absolute shock. Was this him returning for her? Or did he plan to leave them to their fate, force her to turn him down for the sake of her title?
But for all his following twittering about not looking for love, about caretakers and estates, and her family holding her back, denying her her choices, his eyes remained fixed on her. He’d missed her too, and now he was trying to rescue her. Now, of all the times and places, Rumpelstiltskin decided to save a damsel in distress.
“I will go with you forever.” She promised, as she had longed to since she was twelve years old, since she decided she was In Love with Rumpelstiltskin.
And no other protests mattered: it was hard even to look upset when she said goodbye to Gaston, their engagement dissolved without even a formal word.
Then she held her head high, and he swept them outside, looking for all the world like a monstrous beast and a captured, miserable, ruined beauty. Except she was trying not to beam, not to lean into his hand on her back, and he let out a happy little giggle the moment they were free from the war room.
He swept her into his arms, bridal-style, and she squeaked in surprise.
“What in the name of all the Gods was that all about?” There was so much that needed saying, but those were her first words.
“We had a deal, remember?” he set her back down on her feet, and they were in another hallway, in a palace not a castle, a room she didn’t recognise, “And no one breaks deals with me.”
“We… no. You only agreed to one night, my eighteenth. You missed it.”
“Exactly. So for every second I broke the promise, I hereby grant a decade in compensation.” He swept a low and sincere bow, and she curtseyed, giggling.
Then she stepped forwards, and kissed him, as hard as she could, tongue sweeping inside and devouring him. She poured every ounce of longing and loneliness of the past months, of every moment since they made this deal, of every second without him into that kiss, and he responded in kind.
He was branding her with his lips, searing and powerful on hers, and all she could do was moan and bury fingers in his hair, hope to heaven that she would never have to let go again.
“I love you.” She whispered, as they broke away for breath, and then clamped her hand over her mouth.
“What… what is happening?” he murmured, as the green-gold scales of his face receded, as his hair turned a softer brown and his eyes clear and human again.
She kissed him again, on his new, soft human lips, and felt the last of the inhuman monstrosity of his body fade, felt a new warmth seep from his bones and into hers. “I think…” she said, quietly, “I think I just broke a curse.”
And she could tell he didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. He was human again, clear as day, and looked suddenly so miserable and angry and hopeful all at once that Belle was afraid he would explode.
“My power…” he muttered, as his right leg gave way and he stumbled against her.
For all of a long and heartbroken moment, he was weak and collapsed against her, and she had to hold her monster-lover in her arms and hope he would keep breathing.
But then his leg straightened once more, and he was back upright, bending and straightening it in utter shock.
“Yes, dearie?” he said, absently, staring at his limb, bewildered.
“What did just happen?”
“I think… a miracle. However did you manage that?”
She giggled, happy for reasons she could not explain, “True Love, perhaps? I’ve been telling you forever, you stupid man. And True Love can never do any harm, only good.”
“You’re still such an innocent.”
“I’m still always right.” She nodded, hands entwined in his, “Does this mean that you can be powerful without being evil?”
“How in seven hells should I know?” he asked, but his smile was growing to match hers, “I don’t feel any weaker…” he raised his palms to her face, compared their skin tones, human pink on pink.
Then he kissed her again, and the world fell down around them, and Belle wasn’t a damsel in love with a monster, she was a princess who had found her handsome prince.
And perhaps it happened under adverse circumstances, and perhaps they’d done things a little early to be discreet, a little out of order.
But they were here, and in love, and all the darkness of the past and the world outside melted and broke in their wake.
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