Fic: Harmless - Chapter 3
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: There is something moving upstairs; Belle helps Bae with his homework.
Bae stares out of the window through most of his lesson. He’s interested in learning - papa cannot read, not really, and it’s useful for getting anywhere beyond the village - but he’s easily distracted, his mind on other things, these days.
Morraine’s mother, Mistress Maisie, says he’s away with the fairies. Papa says he has a head full of sawdust, but he smiles when he says it, and Bae knows he wishes he could read too.
It’s just more interesting today to look out of the window, to where papa and Rose talk by papa’s lanolin barrel, and watch them smiling at each other. They look like the older boys and girls used to, before the war took them, right before the village elders would have them married and children would come.
Which is a bit funny, considering how they’re grown-ups and Bae’s never seen adults act this way. But then, all the adults Bae knows are married with children, or too old for such things.
Morraine follows his gaze, sees Rose and papa out of the window and giggles, “That your new mama, then?” she teases.
“No, shut up,” Bae grumbles, and shoves her lightly. She just giggles again, a pretty, sort of tinkling sound that Bae enjoys. He shoves her again, lightly, just to hear her laugh again.
“Who is she?” Maisie asks, looking up from their practice sheets with a curious little smile, and Bae hears his papa’s warnings ringing in his head, “Haven’t seen her like around here in years.”
“She’s just stopping through,” Bae proceeds cautiously: he loves Maisie and Morraine and their family, and trusts them, but Rose isn’t even her real name, he’s worked out that much, and if she won’t even tell them her name then surely she won’t want anything at all told outside their home, “She got hurt, so we’re helping her rest before she gets going again.”
“Ah,” Maisie nods, and the topic is dropped. Baelfire can see that she understands more than she’s telling: every family has someone they’ve hidden, someone they’ve helped pass through. Some carry messages from the city to the front lines; others are refugees seeking sanctuary in another land.
They have all smuggled a family member, a wounded soldier sick of the bloodshed.
Maisie doesn’t ask more, and Bae doesn’t say.
But when he looks outside again, Rose is gone and papa is staring into the barrel, his whole shape still and bowed, quiet.
Bae takes his notes an hour later, and hurries home, with Maisie’s final tasks for the week ringing in his ears. Papa would be better helped if his son could sit with him all day and help him spin, but one of them needs to know letters. Bae tries to spend every ninth day on learning, and have it done between sunrise and sunset, so that the others can be spent helping.
Bae would like to get out of the village one day, be someone more than the son of a crippled spinner, but that comes second to helping put food on the table.
But still, the work is getting harder – Maisie would rather have them learning than working for all that their family is as poor as Bae’s – and he struggles.
He glances up, sees Rose settling herself across the table from him and only wincing a little when she has to bend her bad leg. She pulls out her ever-present roll of thread, and winds it around her fingers, beginning the complex little dance she plays whenever she is sat still for any length of time at all.
“What’re you doing, Bae?” She asks, after a long and companionable silence.
“Mistress Maisie gives me tasks to do after she lets me go,” he explains, “I have to write these words in sentences to show I understand them.”
“And was this why you were absent this morning?”
He nods, “Once every ninth day, Mistress Maisie teaches us letters. It used to be a lot easier than this, though.” He scowls back down at the slate in front of him, with his sentences half-written in careful script, unable to make head nor tail of the next word.
“Do you want some help?” she offers, strangely quietly, and he glances up in surprise.
“You know letters?” he asks, unable to keep the hope out of his voice: things will be so much easier with someone to help him at home, maybe he can even learn fast enough not to spend even one day away from helping papa.
He’d miss being able to sit right next to Morraine for a whole morning, but he can still go and see her. He would miss having a reason to, though, and it’s suddenly so much harder to think of why he wants to meet with her, if not for lessons. But Rose is still looking at him, and he can think about Morraine later, when there’s no one to see him acting strangely.
“Yes, I learnt when I was a little younger than you are.” She comes around the table to take a seat beside him, “Let me see.”
He passes her the slate, and she looks over it for a moment, nodding and frowning. Then, calmly and patiently, step-by-step, Rose works him through every problem on the slate, until - after two hours of studying and repetition - he understands the exercises as if he’d set them himself.
He beams when she turns away, before she can see him: maybe he can talk Morraine through it as Rose has him, go over there tomorrow afternoon before she goes back to the fields and offer to help.
The idea makes his smile even wider, and he can’t smother it in time before Rose turns back to him, “See?” she smiles back, “Isn’t it lovely when you get it?”
“Yes,” he nods, beaming, thinking of Morraine’s smile when he will show her how to impress her mama with her writing, “Lovely.”
He can see papa through the window, catches his eye, and wonders why on earth he was watching them at all.
He glances back at Rose, who is tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and then back at papa. He’s back to spinning, staring at the wool with intense and miserable concentration, but Bae still has to wonder: why were his eyes on them at all?
Rumpelstiltskin cannot sleep, not after his nightmare. Tonight’s had been different, horrible in the same ways and yet so much worse. Tonight he had dreamed the soldiers coming and taking Bae, and Rose standing between the men and his son. Tonight he dreamed her neck slashed, her blood on the straw floor mat as Bae was dragged into the night.
He’s never been concerned for anyone but himself and his son, not since his wife died. The thought is unsettling in the extreme: Rum cannot protect his own kin, let alone someone else as well.
He rises from his bed, limps down the ladder and hobbles into the little kitchen area, makes himself a cup of chamomile tea to calm the churning in his stomach.
His hands are shaking; they will not stop.
He makes an awful racket trying to pour the tea into his metal cup, and he has to stop, take a deep breath and try to stop trembling so. Before he can begin to pour again, a warm hand covers his own, and he’s looking down into a bright, tired pair of blue eyes, “Here,” Rose murmurs, “Let me do that.” she cuts him off when he thinks about protesting, “Go sit down, you shouldn’t be stood up without your staff anyway.”
His leg is throbbing something awful, so he does as she says and takes a seat, allowing her to pour two steaming mugs of the herbal brew and hand him his, taking a seat opposite him and smiling an exhausted smile.
“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” she takes a sip, breathes deep like the tea is all that keeps her upright.
“No.” he shakes his head to cover the way he has been staring: a week of calm and quiet, and her bruises are healing nicely, her awful skinniness fading ever so slightly. A few months of such treatment, he thinks, and she would be a very beautiful woman.
She is still a scarred and starved girl, but the potential itself, with that almost-happy little smile, is enough to take his breath away.
And it’s the most terrified he’s ever felt, because he suddenly feels that he has even more to lose. She is a runner, and he knows for a fact that ‘Rose’ cannot be her real name, and what terrible things must she have seen and done to end up here, beaten and lost, hidden in the home of the town coward?
She is a liability, and yet he fears her death as he fears his own.
It is not only insane, but also dangerous and needlessly risky. He should demand that she leave, tomorrow, now that she is walking better and no longer coughing.
But in the two weeks since she arrived, the house has become a little brighter, the food a little better, and Bae smiles more out of joy than to keep his papa from falling apart. Bae is less scared, more boyish, as he should be, with Rose in their home.
These are reasons to care if she stays or leaves.
The fact that they sit in companionable silence, sipping their chamomile, that she neither derides him for his terrified sleeplessness nor offers cloying, pitying kindness, should play no part.
This is not about what he needs: this is about Bae. It has always been and will always be about Bae.
But still, he reaches a hand out when hers sprawls on the table, and covers her fingers with his own. She stares at their hands in shock, eyes wide, and darts from his fingers to his face and back again.
But she doesn’t pull away, even when he flexes his knuckles slightly to gently squeeze her flesh in comfort, even when he smiles with his eyes as he does it. She doesn’t smile back, too busy trying not to show an ounce of surprise or fear - and that she is afraid of him is so laughable he cannot believe it can be true - but her hand doesn’t move from beneath his.
If he is to feel more for her than annoyance at her presence and fear for the havoc it will bring, then he might as well make an attempt at friendship.
They part for their separate beds minutes or hours later with a murmured ‘goodnight’, and he definitely does not spend the rest of his time awake staring at the rafters, remembering the feeling of her skin against his, and the little smile that played around her lips when she thought he wasn’t looking.
They don’t mention it the next morning: she sets to work cleaning the beams above his bed - she swears she heard something moving up there yesterday, and she will find it - and he has his spinning, with Bae at his side.
Bae is watching him oddly as he spins, and finally he looks at the boy and asks, exasperated, “What, son? Have I grown an extra head?”
“No,” Bae laughs, “You just look… funny today, that’s all.”
“I didn’t sleep well.” Rum replies, and goes back to his spinning, hoping his gruff tone will discourage any further questioning.
“How come?” Bae frowns, head cocked to one side, “Was it that thing Rose said she saw in the rafters?”
“No, Bae,” he sighs, “I was having the nightmares again. The bad ones.”
“Oh.” Bae looks down, a little ashamed, and why wouldn’t he be with a father who is afraid of his own bloody shadow? “Me too.”
It’s the first time Rum has ever heard his son admit to such things, “Bae?” He stops spinning and turns to look at his son, unable to feel anything beyond surprise and deep concern.
“I dreamed they came for Morraine,” he admits, looking down at his hands around his roll of twine, “They dragged her away, and the guards were looking at her horribly, and she was screaming but none of us could move… I couldn’t save her.”
And this is the worst part, Rumpelstiltskin knows, about this war. Young boys, near-men but not near enough, discover love only to learn with it the soul-shredding fear of loss, the immediate terror of separation. Even if he saves Bae, when the time comes, he cannot save the girl with him, and now his poor boy’s heart will ache.
But then, when they run, Rose will have to leave them, too.
Two weeks in their home, and Rum regrets allowing her so close to them so fast. Bae will miss her, when she’s gone, and Rum is not indifferent either. His thoughts return for the hundredth time that day to the feeling of her slim little hand under his, the warmth that ran up his arm and into every inch of his body at the small contact, at the fact that she didn’t shift away.
He pauses his spinning, and reaches around to wrap an arm around his son’s shoulders. Bae curls into him, still so small for all that he is old beyond his years, and hides his face in his father’s shoulder. Rum strokes his hair with his free hand, soothingly, trying to hold himself stronger than he feels.
He looks up, over Bae’s head, and sees Rose’s face in the window. She is watching them with an expression so soft and tender, it seems entirely out of place on her hard face.
But then it is gone, and she is smiling her closed-off, guarded smile, and he responds in kind.
He squashes the strange feeling that had grown in him, the sense of completeness and family: as if they are mother and father and child, and she is more than a stranger with a false name and unexplained scars on her face; as if they belong.
They don’t speak much over dinner that night, Bae doing most of the talking. He tells his father excitedly about the new words he’d learnt to write, how he plans to teach some of the other children left in the village – he mentions no names, and Rum and Rose share a meaningful glance across the table.
They none of them comment on how tired they all look, the sleeplessness they share.
Bae, child that he is, stumbles to bed and is dead to the world within minutes, the nightmares of the previous night taking a more immediate strain than on the adults in the house. They are used to insomnia, used to nightmares and unceasing fright.
Rum and Rose are left by the fire: she on Bae’s little wooden stool Rum in the armchair. He had offered her the chair, but she had refused, plonking herself down on the stool and refusing to move. He is learning that it’s easier not to argue when the damned woman has made up her mind.
She pulls out her thread from her apron pocket, and begins her cat’s cradle, watching intently as she adds new twists and flicks of her fingers, weaves new patterns, ever more complex and difficult to understand.
He is trying not to watch, trying to focus on repairing one of Bae’s old tunics, but his practiced fingers can complete the task with or without his concentration and his eyes are inevitably drawn back to her hands.
They are hypnotic, mesmerising, and he would much rather watch her than pretend she didn’t exist.
“Why do you weave so much?” he asks, when the question presents itself in his mind, and his curiosity becomes undeniable.
“I’m sorry?” she glances up, startled by the sudden interruption of their silence.
“Your string,” he gestures with one hand, “You’re always making those patterns with it. I wondered why.”
“Oh,” she smiles, shakes her head, but there’s something more than humour in her eyes; something sadder, darker, as complicated and twisted as her weaving, “I like to watch the thread; it helps me to forget.”
“Forget what?” he asks, as if it’s not a horribly obtrusive question, as if he wants to know something that could surely get him killed.
She frowns for a moment at her fingers, and with one clever little twist of her index finger the whole mess falls apart. She looks up, smiles a practiced, airy little smile “I guess it worked.” She giggles at his expression, and he after a moment he follows, her laugh rich and infectious.
Their laughter dies down into peaceful smiling, and they are gazing at each other. Rumpelstiltskin feels almost light, moonstruck and giddy for all that he is old and hard and creaking.
Their silence is comfortable, heavy and warm; her string doesn’t move and neither does his needle.
He could kiss every scar on her face, and in that moment he believes she’d let him.
Then there is a knock on the door, and everything becomes still and tense within seconds. They share a terrified, wide-eyed look, and wordlessly she clambers into the little cubby where she sleeps, hides herself beneath the blankets so she blends with the other haphazard piles of cloth.
Rumpelstiltskin limps to the door, his stomach in horrible knots, and creaks it open slowly, as if he cares not who waits on the other side.
The soldiers form looming, nightmarish shadows in their dark leather clothing, and they look him up and down, smirk at his staff and the terror lost from his face but ever-present in his eyes, “Good evening, brother.”
“Good evening.” He bobs his head in recognition of the manners, and wonders what on earth they could want with him if they choose to be polite, “Is something wrong?”
“We need to ask a few questions, it won’t take a moment.” They make to come inside, but Rum stands in the way, “My son is only ten years old,” he explains, “and he sleeps poorly. Can we talk outside?”
“Of course.” He is surprised by their acquiescence, and even though his legs shake, he walks at a decent pace with them to the road beyond his home.
“We’re asking everybody,” the leader begins, “Every village on this road. Have you seen this woman?” He holds up a roughly drawn wanted poster, the kind stuck to tree trunks in towns where thieves and bandits roam. Rum hasn’t seen one since his last visit to Longbourne, but he knows the face too well.
Rose stares back at him, but the words are too complicated for Rum to read, and the soldier sighs, “Can you understand it, brother?”
The reward is enough to feed him and his son until Bae is fifty. And yet all Rum feels is a churning, terrifying anxiety, for what if they discover her? What will they do to him, to Bae, to her?
“I’m afraid not.” He replies, and now he is glad that the terror was there already, for they will not notice the new tremor in his voice,
“She is Princess Belle, the daughter of Duke Maurice of the Frontlands, wanted for murder and high treason.” The soldier provides, “She’s a runaway, and we believe she may have passed through here.”
“I barely leave my home,” Rumpelstiltskin looks up pleadingly, uses his lowly peasant status and his own raw fear to mask his lies, “It’s just me and my boy, and we’ve seen nothing.”
“Hmm,” the soldier’s face is unreadable for a moment, scrutinising, and Rum half-grovells. The soldier straightens, after a long moment, and nods dismissively, “We’ll be in town for the next week or so, maybe longer. If you hear anything, there is a great reward for information.”
Rumpelstiltskin nods, makes a hasty and unpractised little bow, and hurries back inside when the soldier waves him away.
He is breathing hard, his heart pounding, and he sinks into his armchair with only a little bit of relief.
“What did they want?” his runner asks as she comes out of her hiding place.
“You, dearie.” He sighs, and he’s too tired, too damn tired, to even be afraid anymore. “Or should that be Your Highness, Belle?”
She swallows, hard, and he tries to see past the cuts and bruises, the still-too-skinny frame and the lank, dirty hair. He looks past the runaway, the would-be peasant, and tries to see a princess. But she was always too good for this place, too pretty and pleasant, her walk too regal and her spine too strong.
“You… you didn’t tell them? I’m still safe here?”
“No, I didn’t tell them. You’re hidden for now.” He looks down, unable to meet her eyes, still incapable of understanding why he hadn’t shopped her when the rewards were so great, “But you’d better start talking, dearie, if you wish to remain that way.”
- coneygoil likes this
- lumiereandpenumbra likes this
- severusalways likes this
- temporalteatime likes this
- squealingwhovian likes this
- chocolatechippedteacup likes this
- cantiatleastknowyou likes this
- ashira-storm likes this
- zionangel likes this
- bearholdingashark likes this
- athelstanned likes this
- upransomedhalo likes this
- ashpash02300 likes this
- janesrocker likes this
- fuckyeahbelleandrumpelstiltskin reblogged this from rufeepeach
- em705 likes this
- lookitsteatime likes this
- nothingeverlost likes this
- promisesandchippedcups likes this
- rebeccastiltskin likes this
- wondertwinc reblogged this from rufeepeach
- raisedbyanother likes this
- bloodydeath11 reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- petitegrimm likes this
- ddagent reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- ddagent likes this
- addictedtopez likes this
- faerietailsandslimysnails reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- hoshitoyume likes this
- theternalstud likes this
- cath-bathgriffin likes this
- sarahmouse reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- chippedhearts likes this
- thestraggletag said: Oh, this is getting so intense! You know a fic is good when some hand-holding gets your heart pounding
- ameetingengagement likes this
- thestraggletag likes this
- amadgirlinhermadwonderland likes this
- chippedcupofchai likes this
- bottledspirits likes this
- dontletthehalofoolyou likes this
- king-undisputed likes this
- hooksdarling reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- iambicdearie reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- hooksdarling likes this
- inthehollows likes this
- calonari reblogged this from marchionessofblackadder and added:
- andachippedcup reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- marchionessofblackadder reblogged this from rufeepeach and added:
- annythecat likes this
- calonari likes this