Fic: Harmless - Chapter 2
AU: Belle arrives, bruised and bleeding, on the doorstep of a lame spinner and his son. On the run from the war and its causes, her short stop-over becomes something else entirely.
Marchie prompted: Bae beats Belle at Go Fish; Belle smells lanolin for the first time.
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 - Chapter 11 - Chapter 12 - Chapter 13 - Chapter 14
Bae follows her, the girl who slept on their floor, as she vanishes into the woods. He follows because she couldn’t walk yesterday, and for all her smiles she is scared as papa and weaker still.
Bae pretends that papa is strong enough to look after them, but Bae has stopped trying to lie and say that he’s not terrified as a rabbit in crosshairs. And it’s alright; it has to be. The world is a dark and scary place, and papa knows more of it than Bae does. He has his reasons to be so afraid.
But Bae knows a wounded animal when she sleeps three feet from his bed, and so he follows her into the woods.
She hums to herself as she walks, her little pack thrown over one shoulder, and she looks for all the world like she knows what she’s doing, like she’s on an adventure to seek her fortune, and not lost and alone and sick.
Only her hacking cough, every now and then, and the little off-note to her songs give her away.
She is as scared as papa when the soldiers come to the village, when he hustles Bae to hide in the house and pretends that he is a year younger than he truly is. When he shakes and gets that face, that horribly helpless face, the one that scares Bae far more than any big man with a sword ever could, more than any ogre.
He watches as she starts to hobble, as her leg pains her and her coughing worsens. The sun is barely half way across the sky by the time she is dragging herself along, her aches and pains hurting her more with every step.
She is sick, and scared, and more tired than two nights of sleep on the floor can cure.
Bae knows that one day he will have to run. Either papa will haul him away from the soldiers, and they will flee together in cowardice and misplaced terror, or he will be called to fight and spend his life running from that same fear. One day, Bae will have to run, although to or from danger he does not know.
But he knows that, when that day comes, he’d like someone to come and carry him to safety when he can no longer even crawl.
So when Rose looks as if she will fall, he runs forward from his place amongst the trees and wraps her arm around his shoulder as he has done papa so many times, and feels her lean on him, her slight weight nothing at all even on his boyish shoulders.
“Baelfire?” she asks, frowning in confusion, “What in seven hells are you doing here?”
“Following you,” he replies, and his voice doesn’t shake, and she leans on him and for the moment he is a grown-up, a man taking care of an injured woman, and the overwhelmed boy is banished, “You’re sick.”
“I’m fine,” she lies, and then coughs like a dying woman and entirely disproves her point.
“Come on,” Bae says, handing her his papa’s spare staff that he’d brought from home, “We need to go home.”
“I need to keep going,” she stands, looks at him, and she only wobbles a little bit on her weak, sickly knees, “You’re a sweet boy, really, but I need to go…”
“No.” he puts his foot down; he will not allow this poor girl - for she is a girl, really, too slight and skinny and lost to be a woman - to lose herself and die for lack of care. Even if papa would prefer to keep their home closed, Bae lives there too. Rose is a runner, and one day he will be too, and that’s the end of it. “You’ll die, come home with me!”
She looks down at him, as he starts to pull them home, and she looks close to tears, “They’ll find me.” she half-whispers, half-sobs, and Bae shakes his head firmly.
“Papa says that they’ll find me, too. We can hide together.” He encourages, feeling her resolve breaking, as she sags against him and curls around his shoulders, allowing him to lead her back to the village.
Papa will not be happy, but then papa hasn’t been happy in years, and if he will not let Bae go with his friends to defend the land, then he can at least allow them to protect one injured girl.
Rumpelstiltskin finds himself sat in his home, sneaking glances at a frail and wounded woman and trying not to show it. He has no idea when Bae became the man between them, when he stopped giving a damn about people in need and started protecting only his own, but Rose is smiling and Bae is smiling back, and there is a new warmth to their home.
She sleeps on her pile of straw, and Bae in his little curtained-off cubby, and Rum in his attic, and the house is quiet.
But when he staggers downstairs in the wee small hours, another nightmare shredding at his soul and that same, sickening and ancient terror in his stomach, he finds her at the table staring at a roll of his thread with a little frown.
“Are you alright, girl?” he asks, keeping his voice gruff: for all that Bae seems to enjoy having company other than his crippled old father, Rose is his guest and not Rum’s, and he doesn’t want to give the impression that she is welcomed by all the family.
“Yes.” she replies, staring at the thread and wrapping it around her fingers, and back again, in an intricate little pattern, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb.”
“How could you disturb anyone just sitting there?” He grabs his metal cup and fills it with the ale they still have from the market a week ago, takes a sip and lets the bitterness seep through, “You barely make a sound.”
“Quiet as a mouse,” she smiles, but he doesn’t let himself respond, “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Obviously.” He thinks about taking his ale up to bed with him, but decides against it. He warns Bae enough about keeping food and drink away from sleeping quarters, for fear of encouraging vermin, and it would be wrong to do so himself. So he takes an unwilling seat across from Rose, and watches her hands simply for something to do.
“What’re you making?” He asks, after a long silence.
“Cat’s cradle,” she looks up, flashes him another smile, and he sees that - beneath the dirt and hunger - she must have been rather astonishingly beautiful once upon a time, “I’ll put the thread back when I’m done: I just need something to do with my hands.”
“Well,” he replies, stiffly, “Keep the thread, then. There’s plenty more.”
He stands to replace the mug, and turns back to see her staring at him, all wide eyes and cautious smile, “Really?”
He shrugs off her gratitude: he has no use for it, and she will hopefully be gone soon. She may be a pretty thing, and nice with Bae, but Rum has no trust for strangers and no kindness left to give. A roll of thread is nothing for the return of the privacy of his home. “It’s no matter: we have plenty more.”
“Well… thank you.” she looks like he’s given her a roll of gold rather than simple string, smiling like the sun, and he gives her the briefest of smiles back.
“Why…” he coughs, awkward all of a sudden, “Why did you come back?”
She looks at him, her face unreadable amongst the cuts and bruises, the traces of dirt that cling to her cheekbones, “I wasn’t going to,” she admits, “I was going to get myself gone. But Baelfire changed my mind.”
Rum casts a glance to the curtains that hide his son, and he can’t help the tender little smile he gets at the thought. Bravery gets boys like him killed before they’re grown, but it’s still a beautiful thing when it becomes a hand, reaching out to one in need.
“He’s a good boy.” She says, and he nods in agreement, “Not many like him left.”
There’s a heavy tone to her voice, as if it’s her fault, as if she drove them into battle herself, and slaughtered them with her bare hands. There’s something beyond the simple fear that he feels, something regretful and dark.
“No.” He agrees, “I have to protect him,” he sounds like a beggar, pleading with her to see, willing her to understand that, if it comes to it, he will shop her in an instant to protect his son. “He’s all I have left.”
She smiles, a kind and understanding smile, “Then you are a wealthy man, Rumpelstiltskin.”
He stares at her, and thinks a moment, about how two people in the house - however scarred and battered, however crippled - may accomplish more than one alone. How Bae needs as much protection as he can get, “If they come for him, and I can’t-”
“I’ll hide him,” she promises, “I most likely owe Baelfire my life, so I will protect his.”
Rum nods, once, in gratitude for this most solemn of vows made in the dead and darkness of the night. And then he turns, and makes for the stairs to the attic.
He returns to his bed silently, and after another half hour or so the light from downstairs dims, and the candles are extinguished, and Rose creeps to her straw mattress as well. He tries not to feel how much fuller - how much more whole - the house feels with a female presence, with someone other than him and Bae.
The next day, he awakens and there is an odd smell in the house.
He staggers downstairs, grabs his staff, and there is Bae, chatting happily with Rose over a plate of eggs.
He’d known they had eggs - Morraine, a few doors down, has a soft spot for his Bae and she gets them eggs from her family’s coups when she can - but they smell far better than anything he or Bae could cobble together. “Good morning.” she greets, with a tired little smile, and he can see the bags beneath her eyes.
“Indeed,” he grumbles, “Breakfast?”
“Papa!” Bae turns and beams at him, “Rose made us scrambled eggs!”
“I can see that, Bae.”
“I just thought…” she has a loop of his thread wrapped around her thumb, and she fiddles with it absently, “You’re letting me sleep here, the least I can do is simple cookery.”
“Is there any left?” He asks, and it’s as much gratitude as she’ll get out of him.
“Plenty.” She smiles, stands and serves him a plate of eggs as if she’s a maid, their caretaker rather than their impromptu houseguest.
Rumpelstiltskin finds himself sharing breakfast with his son and a rather pretty young woman, and somehow a small and flickering sense of contentment steals over him. For the first time in years, he does not feel afraid.
And of course the terror returns the moment she stands to clear the plates, and the spell is broken. Of course every day brings them closer to the day when the ogres will come for Bae, to the moment they discover this woman’s true identity and the house crumbles around their ears. But for that one meal, those few strung-together moments, it is like the old days, before the wars began again, and the fear took root once more in his coward’s heart.
Belle settles into a happy little routine, after that morning. She cooks their meals, silently cleans the hovel bit by bit, and stays inside as if there are dragons at the door. The guards may be interested in Baelfire in a few months, if the age is lowered once again and the war grows even more brutal and bloody, but it is she who would capture their true attention.
They do not come to the spinner’s door, and she does not leave but to wash clothing in the wooden tub in the back yard, sealed off by trees and the walls of the house, and she feels a little bit safe.
Only enough that she stops shaking, only enough that she can hold down her food.
But still, it is progress.
Of course, the moment Baelfire is taken - and no matter what she or the spinner do, the boy will see battle, of this she is certain - she too will be gone from this place. She stays for the sweet boy, who sits at her feet as she does her cat’s cradle, who eats her simple meals as if they are the King’s own banquets and smiles as she teaches him card games from her youth.
She lets him win, but only enough that he’ll keep smiling, and not so much that he’ll notice and demand she play fair. For all her sins, Belle has no more idea how to play fair anymore than a spider knows how to start a fire. He does not ask where she learnt to play cards, or where she found the skill to cook. Bae does not ask, and she does not say, and Rumpelstiltskin watches from his wheel with quiet and terrified suspicion.
And, increasingly, bewilderment. As her first week in their home passes, and still no guards come for his boy or for her, the spinner’s looks begin to tend more to the confused than the distrusting.
They don’t really speak, Belle and Rumpelstiltskin, not after their quiet and strange little meeting her third night in his home. They act with a common civility and caution, as if the other might grow fangs and bite at any moment.
But then, eight days after her failed attempt at leaving, they find themselves alone for the first time.
Belle isn’t aware that Bae is even gone: the boy spends most of his time outside, helping his father, or at least close by. If he goes out regularly, she is certainly not aware of it. So when she comes out of the front door to hang some washing, and is hit by an abominable stench, she is unaware that she is only addressing Rumpelstiltskin when she curses, and cries “What in seven hells is that smell?”
The spinner turns to her on his stool, frowning, almost a little offended, “It’s lanolin,” he replies, calmly, as if the answer is obvious, “For waterproofing.”
“Oh.” She covers her mouth and nose with the corner of the skirt Bae borrowed for her from his friend’s family - her rags, for that is what her gown had become, lie under her mattress, awaiting repair - “It’s… pungent, isn’t it?”
He looks entirely unimpressed, “Well, it does come from sheep, and they’re not known as the most fragrant of animals.” He sets his work down for a moment, leans on his staff to regard her closely, “You act as if you’ve never smelt it before. Surely they had spinners and clothmakers in your home?”
Indeed, they had, but Belle had never had any reason to visit their workshops in person. And though she’d run through many villages before collapsing at this man’s door, she had never stopped long enough to see the craftsmen at work.
“My father…” she pauses, trying to work out how not to lie and not to spread the truth, “Was not much given to allowing me out.”
“Ah,” he nods, but his eyes are narrowed, and she can see that he has more to say on the subject, “You know, mistress, you may wear Morraine’s sister’s old clothes, Gods know she doesn’t need them anymore, but nothing is going to make me believe you grew up in a village such as this.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” she puts her free hand on her hip, levels a challenging glare at the spinner.
“You know what I mean, mistress, don’t pretend that you don’t. You’re a lady of some kind, born and bred, and I don’t need the trouble a runaway princess could bring to me and my kin.”
She takes a deep breath, and steps forward, coming to sit on Bae’s stool next to Rumpelstiltskin, looking at him hard. He is not her enemy; he and his son are her only friends in the world at this moment, and she needs it to stay that way. He is scared, as scared as she, and with far fewer chances at escape. And if they are to be wounded animals trapped together, then the least she can do is try for understanding, “I… I am sorry for coming to your door. I know I am most likely more trouble than I am worth.”
His face creases a little, in something like guilt or sympathy, “I let you in,” he allows, “Part of it is my fault.”
She laughs, and it’s a little and meaningless sound, but it feels good after so long without. Every new smile, every tiny chuckle that escapes her here, is a new blessing. A tiny crack in the massive wall that covers her skin.
“I understand your concern, Rumpelstiltskin,” she says, “And the moment you feel that my presence is an immediate danger to Bae, I will leave without complaint.”
“I…” He looks at her, as if he has no idea at all of what to say, and then, finally, nods his thanks, “Thank you, Mistress Rose. It’s much appreciated.”
Her new name sounds profoundly wrong in such a moment of honesty, but she cannot bring herself to correct him. She is Belle, she always has been and always will be, but the less these peasants know of her true identity the safer they will be.
“So,” she fiddles with her skirt, awkwardly, “Where’s Bae? Isn’t he usually here to help out?”
“Oh,” Rumpelstiltskin waves a hand, a little dismissively, but there is a gleam in his brown eyes, “He’s at a friend’s house. Her mama knows more about words than I do, so she teaches them every few days or so.”
“Ah,” she nods, smiles, catching his drift, “A friend? Would this friend perhaps be young and female?”
“Well, Mistress Rose, I believe she might be.” He smiles, a doting and teasing grin, and it’s the most genuine smile she’s ever seen on his lined and worried face, “Bae’s taken quite a shine to her, truth be told.”
“Really?” Belle giggles like a teenager discussing a suitor, and leans in toward the spinner like a conspirator, “A shine you say? Is this the Morraine he’s so careful not to mention?”
“Indeed, their lessons last longer every time. I’m starting to think he prefers their house to mine.”
“Unless your house contains a pretty young girl, I think you’re fighting a losing battle,” she smiles, warmly, but the look in his eyes is strange. He stares at her face a moment, runs his eyes from hers and down to her mouth, and then back again, almost unconsciously.
“Indeed,” he murmurs, “Losing. Definitely.”
Everything, for one brief moment, is very, very still. Belle is suddenly intensely uncomfortable, staring into the deep brown eyes of her host, and she stands quickly, breaking the tension with a flip of her hand, “Will he be wanting lunch, anyway?”
“No,” Rumpelstiltskin smiles, a little embarrassed although Belle stubbornly refuses to wonder why, “I think not.”
“Alright, I’ll bring it out when it’s ready then.” She hurries herself away, back into the house where it is safe, and it is only when she is chopping a leek and some small potatoes for the lunch broth that she stops to curse herself her own foolish actions.
The spinner would probably believe her to be offering herself, now, with the way she’d stared at him. All men think the same, she knows, trustworthy and kind until shown a flash of female interest; they all become monsters when the sin takes hold. Even sweet, kindly human men like her host. If she offered herself as payment for sanctuary here, offered to warm Rumpelstiltskin’s bed, then he would accept.
And the knowledge hurts, because she has started to like the spinner and his son, view them as friends rather than figures to be skirted around and distrusted.
This is why women marry, Belle knows: to gain something from their men before the sin takes hold, and the nice boys they took to the wedding turn to wild and selfish animals in the bedchamber.
Even if Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes had been soft and warm when he looked at her, for all of that one moment.
Belle feels only fear and the calm practicality that comes with its repression, no matter how sweet and innocent Bae’s smiles are, or how honest the words and eyes of his father.
- lumiereandpenumbra likes this
- severusalways likes this
- temporalteatime likes this
- clockworkviolinist likes this
- squealingwhovian likes this
- cantiatleastknowyou likes this
- lookitsteatime likes this
- robin-sloan likes this
- ladyenjolras likes this
- fuckyeahbelleandrumpelstiltskin reblogged this from rufeepeach
- theternalstud likes this
- petite-mendigotte likes this
- realfairyarmadillo likes this
- whiteorangeflower likes this
- inthehollows likes this
- margaretmoony likes this
- lita64 likes this
- upransomedhalo likes this
- bearholdingashark likes this
- just-a-zombie-killing-ninja likes this
- rufeepeach reblogged this from andachippedcup and added:
- andachippedcup reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- andachippedcup likes this
- chippedhearts likes this
- thestraggletag likes this
- milleemo likes this
- faerietailsandslimysnails likes this
- addictedtopez likes this
- king-undisputed likes this
- oldandnewfirm likes this
- cath-bathgriffin likes this
- iambicdearie reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- bottledspirits likes this
- whatifqueen likes this
- doidreamagain likes this
- marchionessofblackadder reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- vivacioustavernwench likes this
- chatteringwench likes this
- wondertwinc reblogged this from rufeepeach
- annythecat likes this
- sfgirl18 likes this
- gepardo likes this
- nothingeverlost likes this
- i-gotta-go-good-day-pusscake likes this
- calonari likes this
- goodbye-then reblogged this from rufeepeach
- danceofthewind likes this
- hooksdarling reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- raisedbyanother likes this
- dontletthehalofoolyou likes this