Fic: Not A Bad Life
Title: Not A Bad Life
Rating: essentially PG-13, but has some faintly mature themes in places.
Summary: Despite everything, Evil Queens and dragons, magic and the loss of it, Rumpelstiltskin and Belle grow old together.
Marchie prompted: “His cane breaks” ; “His eyesight is going” ; “The stained glass gives her a migraine” “It’s forever, especially in death” ;
Expanded from the mini-AU prompt: “they grow old together”
His eyesight is going.
She barely notices it at first: her husband was never too fond of driving anyway, or watching television, and she rather likes his new reading glasses. Rumpelstiltskin had been in his mid-forties when he was cursed, and they’ve been in Storybrooke for near-on two decades since the cursebreak.
They’ve lived in their pink wooden house on and off, in between searches and travels, airplane rides and long car journeys to distant cities.
In the end, it was almost funny how all it took to find Bae was a few innocent questions about Henry’s father to Emma and a physical description. Baelfire had made himself a home in a city called Phoenix, in an attempt to find magical refugees like himself.
He had remained there, after they found him, but the simple ability his father now had to simply pick up the telephone and speak to his son had added a new spring to his step, a light and ease to his eyes and manner.
But that was fifteen years ago, and Baelfire is a man in his forties himself, his legal named changed to Benjamin Front, and he has a lovely wife named Olivia and two daughters. His life is in the city named Phoenix, in the desert and the heat, and Belle cannot blame him for staying. Even if it does mean he rarely sees his father, even if he was reluctant to meet his own son, despite all his own troubles with almost the exact same situation in his childhood.
She is happy with her Rumpelstiltskin, and she knows that Bae is happy also.
But his eyesight is going: he is seventy, now, while she is younger than his son, and he needs his glasses more and more.
She tells him he looks like a professor, that they make him responsible and dignified, as does the ever-increasing grey in his hair - he is more silver than brown, now - and the laughter lines set in deep grooves around his eyes.
He tells her she’s sweet to say so, traces the little lines of silver in her own hair, kisses the small wrinkles that appear when she smiles. He reaches her lips and kisses her with practiced surety, with the confidence of a husband of twenty years who knows exactly how to make his wife sigh into his mouth.
When they make love - always in the bed, never in the kitchen or the living room, on the dining room table, not anymore - she can forget that he is any different now than he has ever been.
His cane breaks, and he trips on the stairs.
She hears the clattering thump, jumps from the sofa and runs to help him. He has slid down to land in a heap at the bottom of the staircase, his leg splayed out in front of him at an awkward angle.
“Oh my God, Rum!” she kneels beside him, eases him out so he’s sat rather than crumpled, and he groans, “What happened?”
“Blasted walking stick,” he replies, and she tries to ignore his grunts of pain, tries to make out his words, “Bloody thing broke, let me fall.”
“I’m getting you to the hospital right now!” she cries, and pulls her cellphone out of her pocket, dials 911 with shaking fingers. He is staring at her, his eyes glassy, and his hand trembles where she holds it in her own. She barks the details down the phone to the young doctor on the other end, and hangs up the moment she’s finished.
She strokes her husband’s hair, presses a kiss to his forehead, and he curls himself around so that his head lies cradled in her lap.
She holds his hand all the way to the hospital, refuses to leave as the - startlingly young, when did everyone grow up? - doctors take him away, send him into surgery. He has splinters of bone in places they shouldn’t be, and he is fading in and out of consciousness.
They are not trying to assure her that everything will be alright: he is seventy-two years old and his leg is worse every day, his health is not what it once was.
She sits in the waiting room with her hands clasped at her knees, head bowed. She counts the grey strands that ripple her dark hair, and with them the years of their life, tries to summon her old bravery from the warmth of those memories, from the ghost of his voice in her ears and his fingers wrapped around hers.
She is only fifty-one, only as old as he was when they married, and too young to be a widow.
Rumpelstiltskin knows this, he knows this, and she promised him forever. But then, she never thought to make him swear the same thing.
He won’t leave her, he can’t.
Dr. Hatter smiles at her, (and hasn’t little Gracie grown into a lovely young woman?) “Good news, Mrs Gold,” Belle’s heart jumps into her throat, “Your husband’s operation was a success. He should be awake by tomorrow morning, if you want to go home and get some sleep.”
“It’s fine,” Belle smiles, but her yawn belies her words, “I need to be here when he wakes up.”
“He’ll be under for a good few hours yet, Mrs Gold,” Grace assures her, “Go home, you can see him in the morning.”
She doesn’t want to leave him, really, she doesn’t. But he’ll be unconscious for a while, yet, and she is exhausted. He is not as young as once he was, but neither is she. So she allows Grace to show her into his room, and presses a soft kiss to his lips - it worked once before, after all, and it’s worth a try - and stands back for a moment to look at the man she loves.
She hates to go home without his hand in hers, the tap of his cane beside her on the sidewalk, but his leg and hip are in a bad way as it is and she’s heard the word ‘wheelchair’ a few times this evening already.
So she walks home alone, her cardigan wrapped around her closely for warmth, and she watches Storybrooke with somehow newly ancient eyes on her way.
She’s never had such a stark reminder of how much time has passed, before.
Storybrooke had magic for only a year, perhaps a little more, before they banished it back to the world it belonged to and Regina with it. Snow White and Prince Charming left to see the world, although Emma Swan remained and is Mayor now.
Belle considers stopping by her office sometime tomorrow, to thank her for her step-daughter’s service to her husband.
Henry Mills couldn’t wait to leave, even with Emma left behind. Last Belle heard, he’s a successful writer, living in London with his husband. Emma misses him, and Belle can relate: she has seen the toll it takes on Rum when he is reminded of the distance between himself and his son.
People have come and gone in twenty years, and Regina’s Curse is an old memory in this town. It binds those of them who remain with those who left: the memory of a world the newer residents will never know at all.
They are a family, almost, extended and often antagonistic, but they keep in touch.
She heard that Ruby Hopper died in a car accident, a few years back, and Jiminy was unconsolable. He himself passed away only six months later, and his son had blamed a broken heart for the loss.
The diner and the psychiatrists’ office - under new ownership, a MacDonald’s and a bakery in their places, now - seem almost mournful, and empty in their absence.
That’s the problem with true love: those who had been caught up in it, in those days when magical bonds such as that had existed in this world and the last, were doomed to destruction when the real world broke it apart.
Belle only has to look to the fear, the utter and all-consuming dread unfurling in her soul to understand that. Rum is so much older than her, even if one were to believe his age in this world and discount his centuries in golden scales and magic, and she will most likely lose him sooner rather than later.
She’s mentioned it only once, right after they’d found Bae all those years ago, when they needed to write a will. He brushed her off, unwilling to think about it, and assured her that there is enough magic between them to ensure that she’ll never lose him again.
She’s determined for herself that he isn’t allowed to up and leave her: if he plans on dying, he’s taking her with him. She’s passed from one world into another once without him by her side, and she doesn’t plan to ever do it again.
That had seemed a reasonable thought when she was thirty-five and he in his fifties, and they had all the time in the world. He was strong and powerful, Rumpelstiltskin the sorcerer, King of all the world.
But somehow, in the intervening years, Storybrooke had joined the rest of the world and the magic had been sent away, and they had faded from a wizard and his accomplice to a lame, elderly pawnbroker and his librarian wife, twenty-one years his junior.
Somehow time and space had gotten in the way, and weakened them all.
There were no more princesses, no more knights or heroes or maidens fair. The books in the library were fiction, nothing more, dreams remained in people’s heads, and the Evil Queen had been vanquished decades hence.
And her husband tripped on the stairs and broke his hip.
Belle tries very hard not to sob as she opens the door to their old, pink, wooden home and lets herself in. Even the lights seem subdued, the evening light through the stained glass somehow colder and empty without him to fill it.
She picks up the phone once she has removed her shoes, and calls Bae. His wife answers the phone, and hands it over quickly as soon as the words “Ben’s father” and “hospital” are mentioned.
Bae is so concerned it breaks Belle’s heart, “He’s going to be fine, Bae,” Belle reassures him, “He broke his hip; they say he might never properly walk again, though, so you can imagine the hell he’ll raise about that…” she hears the choked little note in her voice on the word ‘walk’, and Bae catches it too.
She raises a hand to her cheek; it comes away wet.
“I’ll be there fast as I can,” he promises, “Papa isn’t facing this without me there.”
“No, Bae,” she smiles at the boy’s dedication - he and Rum fight like anything sometimes, some wounds too deep to ever heal, but there is a love there that takes her breath away - “He wouldn’t want that. Stay with your family, it’s fine.”
“No.” Stubborn, too: he truly is his father’s son. “I’m coming up to help the old bastard whether he likes it or not.”
She doesn’t want to, but she smiles, laughs a little around the tears streaming down her cheeks, “Thanks, Bae.”
“Don’t let him kill any nurses till I get there, Belle,” she can hear the brave little smile in his voice, and she laughs again. Another shared trait: Rum will walk across broken glass if she lets him, just to make her laugh if she’s down.
The thought just makes her cry harder, and she has to choke out, “Just… get here soon, okay?” and wait for Bae to promise to run to the airport if he has to, before she hangs up and sits down hard on the sofa.
He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s going to be fine.
Rumpelstiltskin confined to a wheelchair is an awful prospect, but so much better than the alternatives.
But Belle is no fool: she knows a beginning when she sees one, and an ending.
This isn’t going to be an isolated incident: Doctor Hatter might have to get used to seeing the Golds in the hospital corridors.
Bae leaves after two weeks in their guest room - the room Rum made up for him when they were first reunited, which is his whenever he comes to visit, more often than he’d originally warned and less than Rum would like - to return to his wife and children.
He promises to see them at Christmas, and Rum embraces him hard before he leaves. He leans on Belle for support - he is not confined to his chair: he only uses it when she wants to walk a way outside and he won’t make it with just his cane - as he waves his son goodbye.
His arm is around her shoulders, and she curls against him, allowing his weight to rest on her as much as on his new, sturdier, cane as she leads them back inside.
He sits heavily in his armchair, and she gets out the footstool, propping his feet on it, making him comfortable.
“Belle,” his hand rests over hers where she is plumping a cushion, and he looks at her with eyes that are so warm, so loving that even after all this time she can’t believe it, “Stop.”
“I’m only trying to help,” she says, and when did her voice become so quiet, so lost?
“My leg is fine, dearest, as fine as it ever was.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Let me be the judge of that, eh?” he smiles, and pulls her gently up for a kiss. Once upon a time she could have curled in his lap, but she is afraid now of hurting him.
She tries to stay standing, to hold his shoulders and kiss him without putting weight on his broken body, but he has other ideas. His hands come to her waist, and pull her down to sit with him. They shift a little, make some room, and she is glad that the armchair is wide enough for the both of them.
She sits with her legs across his, curled into him with her weight on the cushion beneath them.
It’s like they’re younger, again, and sitting on the kitchen chair, sharing breakfast, him in his old robe and her in one of his shirts, giggling and kissing, touching anywhere they feel like all morning.
She sighs, snuggles into him, and his arms come around her.
They spend more days like that, curled up together, until the wheelchair and the painkillers don’t seem so bad. His leg gets better, gradually, and a year later he is walking to the grocery store and back with her with only his cane, like in the old days.
He leans a little heavier on his walking stick, but they can drive most places and the chair stays in the garage for a rainy day.
Her migraines get worse as she approaches sixty, the stained glass windows suddenly a bad idea after all. It’s a shame, when they have to call Ava Tillman to have them replaced, but the clear glass in the windows and doors make her head throb less, when the attacks hit, and so she thinks it’s worth it.
He’s as attentive as any new husband, when she’s under the weather: he is by her bedside as long as she needs him, cold cloth in hand and painkillers ready.
They sit in the dark, when she can speak but not open her eyes, and he sits propped up next to her supine form and tells her the old stories, the ones she’s heard a hundred times but wishes to know just once more.
Cinderella cracks her up: she didn’t read the fine print.
Prince Charming’s tale makes her vow to call Snow, who has settled with James in California and goes by the name of Blanche, now. Emma has a brother named Alex, and nieces and nephews young enough to be her grandchildren.
Her favourite story is the brave princess who promised forever to save her kingdom, and the cowardly beast who fell in love with her.
He tells her that one the most often, changes little details sometimes to see how she remembers. She knows he worries for her as much as she does him: the monsters and sicknesses are so much scarier in this land without magic.
She makes sure to stop him when he tells her that her dress was silver-blue when she knows it was gold, that he gave her a peony instead of a rose. And he sighs, pretends to be caught out when in fact she can recognise relief, and continues to tell her how he wished he could kiss her every day she was with him, how he watched for her return.
The day she cannot remember their time in the Dark Castle, she swears, will be the worst day of her life.
But thankfully, thankfully, that day never comes.
He’s almost eighty when they move their things downstairs entirely, move into the study in back of the house with the help of Henry and Eric Hatter-Swan, visiting from London, who are all too happy to help Henry’s grandparents to reorganise their home. It was impractical, with Rum’s leg so bad, to have the bedroom up such a high flight of stairs.
Mayor Swan stands with them, supervising, and chats with Belle as Rum scolds his grandson to be careful with his books.
As if Henry ever needed telling how precious books could be.
The second day of work, Bae arrives with Olivia and his babies to pitch in. Henry embraces his father - they talk, sometimes, but they’re far from close - and they work side by side, as Eric watches on approvingly.
For all his troubles convincing his family to even share a room together, not one of his parents or grandparents ever once objected to Henry’s marriage to Eric, not even for a moment, and their wedding was the first time Rum, Belle, Emma, Bae, Snow and James were all in the same place at the same time. Regina’s absence had been palpable.
Henry always was good at making people see the obvious, even when they’d been blinded.
And Eric is as much a part of the family as anyone else, as much as anyone could want to be.
They drink tea, and chatter about their lives, and Bae’s daughters explore the upstairs of the house with their half-brother to keep an eye on them. They love the balconies best, and throw Barbie dolls from the edges with grocery bags attached as parachutes. Neither will own up to the idea when it fails.
Within four days, Henry and Eric are back at Emma and Jefferson’s place, packing to leave for London in the morning, and Bae and Olivia are upstairs in the guest rooms with their children, and Belle and Rum curl on their new bed, exhausted.
They sleep every night with his arms wrapped around her, or with her head on his chest. They always have and they always will.
He is eighty-five, and she in her sixties, when Charlotte moves in with them.
Bae’s eldest daughter is not the type to go to University, although her sister Sophie surely is. Charlotte needed to be away from Phoenix, taking after her father a little too much and causing some trouble, and it was agreed that Maine would help with that.
So she stays in the room kept for her father, and takes over the front desk of the library for Belle as she spends more and more time organising the shelves in peace, and at home with Rum on his bad days. He wears his glasses all the time now, and spends more time in his armchair reading than not.
She stops by every few hours the days she isn’t at work, to check on her step-granddaughter. Charlie sits behind the desk in the shortest skirts she can manage, long pink streaks in her blonde hair.
Her manner is flirtatious - she does wonders for Storybrooke’s literacy rates among young men - and Belle feels a stab of sadness for an old friend. Charlie is channeling Ruby Hopper, although she never met the dearly departed woman, although it is not the same.
Belle realises with a sad, wry smile that she has become Granny Lucas.
She tells this to Rum in their bed the evening she thinks it, and he laughs and pulls her close. “You’re not old, my Belle,” he tells her, “You’re a fine vintage. I’m old.”
“Shut up,” she smiles at him, a little weakly, “you’re a little kid in a grown-up’s body.”
“True,” he nods, “You’ve been my nanny since the day we met.”
“You would have jumped off of high places and slid down banisters without me there,” she smiles, fondly, “and you were so adorable trying to impress me.”
“I knew a girl too good for me when I saw her.”
“I was a girl then, wasn’t I?” she muses, “I was all young and entranced by you.”
“Entranced?” he muses on the word, head tilted back, “Well, that’s a new one. I was certain you were taking pity on me.”
“It was the leather trousers,” she confides, giggling, “How was I to resist?”
He tickles her under her ribs, lightly, and she laughs and squirms away. She turns around in his arms, kisses him slowly, gently, and gradually, in little movements and careful shifts, she is sat astride him, sprawled across his chest.
They make love slowly, carefully, and she clings to him as he shakes. They creak and tremble, too old really for the acts of the young, but this has always worked for them. They kiss slow and deep as they move together, and she is so consumed with love for him, with everything that they are and all that they have done, that the rest is easy.
They curl together afterwards, her head tucked against his shoulder, his kisses in her hair.
There is a banging from upstairs, loud music, and a teenaged yell, “You skeletons done yet?”
Rum yells back, “Our house, remember?”
“You’re as bad as mom and dad!” she screams, and the pair of them laugh like teenagers caught necking on the couch.
Henry moves back to Storybrooke the year Rum turns ninety, and Rum admits that he is glad to see his new great-grandson while he has the chance.
Belle swats his arm, admonishes that he has years left, but her promises of time are getting weaker. She herself is nearly seventy, and the doctors don’t like the sound of the migraines that keep hitting her, the new spots in her memory.
She quits the library, and spends her days with her feet next to Rum’s on the footstool, her book in her hands. Charlie sticks around in Storybrooke, moves in with the boyfriend she met here, takes over the library from her grandmother and allows her hemlines to become a little bit longer, the pink to fade from her hair.
Henry is a good influence on his half-sister, lives a few blocks down and allows her to babysit when he and Eric go to Boston over night. He calls his son Ben; Bae comes up to meet him and cries when he’s told the name.
It’s the best act of reconciliation Henry could offer, and Eric never pipes up that it was his idea.
Belle watches from the side with Emma, watches the soon-to-be ex-Mayor almost weep with pride. Henry is running for her seat instead of her, the next election, and no one who knows anything of Storybrooke’s true past can think of a better choice.
One day, Belle thinks, Storybrooke’s mayor will not be an inherited position. But no one opposed Emma after Regina fell, and now no one runs against Henry, and the line of succession continues.
Perhaps, she thinks, it’s because Storybrooke was founded on Kings and Queens, and not democracy at all.
Emma and Jefferson finally leave their babies in their hometown, and go out into the world. The last Belle hears of them, they are having a rather marvellous time in the English countryside, cavorting in Lewis Carrol country and disturbing the locals.
Henry and Eric live with Ben in the house Henry grew up in, and enjoy removing the very last traces of Regina from the place. Even if Eric confides to Belle that he found his husband clutching an old hand-mirror from the attic, and crying very softly. He won’t admit it, even to his love, but Henry will always miss his first mother just a little bit, somewhere deep inside. Regina will always have one last mourner.
Belle can understand that, she supposes. She will always love Rumpelstiltskin’s sharpness, his strangely lilting voice and eerie manner, his darkness. Even though she finds Rum Gold far easier to handle, even though he makes a better husband in his suits and now his old shirts than he ever would have in leather and silk.
Belle finds her husband one morning in June, curled in their armchair.
She’s found some photos in the attic, old ones of Bae with his children as babies, of Charlotte and Sophie as little girls in their home. They flip through them together, find some even older ones of the town before Regina fell, of Emma as sheriff, of Mary Margaret Blanchard and David Nolan.
Snow died a year ago next August, of breast cancer. James is a listless man now, living with his son. He is old, too, and his days are numbered with his true love buried in the ground.
They are quiet, saddened by the memory. But things are happier, brighter, when they find their wedding photos, and remember when their hair was dark instead of snowy white, when they could dance on the balconies and make love in every room in the house.
“Well,” he says, as if in summation, “Not a bad life, eh?”
“I’ve been with you forever,” she smiles, the happiest woman on earth, even if she is ancient and he is even older, even if she can barely move for creaking joints, “So I’d say so, yeah.”
She curls into his side, his arm around her, and she crawls upon his lap. Like they did twenty years ago, when his hip first broke and she realised that they were not immortal, that they would not live forever. “I love you.” He murmurs, and presses a soft kiss to the top of her silver head.
“Mmm,” she hums, and pulls a blanket up over and about their shoulders, so they are curled beneath and warm, safe, “I love you too. Forever.”
And it truly is forever, she thinks, in the dark and quiet vestiges of her mind, especially in death.
They slip into sleep, smiling together.
Henry comes to borrow a recipe book from his grandmother, and finds them there. They are both smiling softly, curled into each other like lost puzzle pieces, and neither one of them breathing.
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