Fic: Harmless - Chapter 7
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.
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
Rumpelstiltskin, for a man who spends much of his life trying not to be noticed, certainly picks his moments to reappear.
Belle, as soon as the words left her mouth, had hoped that perhaps Bae could hold his tongue and keep to himself what she had said about Gaston. Perhaps her former fiancé would leave the village empty-handed and allow them to continue their lives as before.
But her sudden, thoughtless admission rings through the air, and meets Rumpelstiltskin as he comes in through the door.
She glances at him in horror, wishing she could tear the words from the air itself, stop him from hearing them, for reasons she herself cannot explain.
But he doesn’t even look at her. That’s the worst part: he can’t bear to look.
It doesn’t seem fair; indeed, it isn’t close to justice, his being upset by this news. Theirs is not a love-match, of course not, they married for convenience. And for all their small, simple, beautiful kisses and tentative little touches in the intervening weeks, she never considered herself beholden to him, nor he to her.
She knows he once loved another: the presence of his teenaged son is evidence enough of that.
She doesn’t even know her predecessor’s name, nor does she care to learn. Not for jealousy or anger, but simply because it seems irrelevant. Rumpelstiltskin’s life has changed dramatically since he was first married, and Belle’s even more so, since the old days when she had fancied herself in love with Gaston.
“What is the matter, husband?” she asks, as he takes a seat opposite her at the table. Only with speech does she realise the tremble in her fingers and limbs, which translates into her voice.
“There is nothing the matter, dear,” he responds, and his hesitant smile does a very little to allay her fears that he has been hurt, however unfairly, by this. He turns to Bae, who has taken a seat beside his father, “I only heard a little of your story, son; if you could refresh the details for me then that would help.”
Bae recaps the tale of his afternoon to his father, and Belle allows - for just a moment - her head to spin with the news and her memories to flood.
Gaston wouldn’t drag her back, kicking and screaming, of this she is certain. They never loved truly, nor deeply but they were been friends since childhood. And Bae had appeared puzzled by the lack of anger or malice, predatory gleam, to their village’s visitor. He is not here to abduct her and drag her back to her father’s court, of this Belle is reasonably sure.
But why, then, would he do anything more than spread the rumours that she had died when she leapt from that tower window? What does he hope to achieve by pursuing her, other than lead the soldiers right to her door?
Bae finishes his story, and Rum’s eyes are fixed squarely on his cup, grasped in his hands. He’d made himself tea, at some point, and her too, while she was lost in thought.
She sips it gratefully, but he doesn’t meet her eyes.
“Is he a threat, wife?” he asks, his voice harder than his usual tones, and she tries not to allow herself to cry then and there. Whether for the fact that her oldest friend must be the subject of such a question, or because they will never, never, ever be truly safe, she doesn’t know.
But what had she expected? To be allowed to live in peace and harmony, with a kindly husband and a sweet adopted son, into a comfortable old age?
Such things are not options for princesses in this land, nor even for common women. Bae will be sent to fight; Rumpelstiltskin will die a slow death with every day of his absence. The inevitable loss of their son will destroy them both.
But her other option? To seek out Gaston or her father’s men and possibly be returned to her childhood home in chains and disgrace? The horror of that thought is at least equal, if not a hundred times worse.
But still, she shakes her head, “On his own? He was my closest friend for most of my life, he would not betray me now.”
“But his men?”
“Unless more than I am aware of has changed since I left the court,” or since she left her first husband’s dungeon of a home, and lost the last of her precious, ransomed letters in the process “They are under his father’s control, and his father under the thumb of mine. If made aware, they would most likely take me away even if he did not.”
Rumpelstiltskin curses, but Bae seems too stricken to notice.
“What do we do, then?” the boy asks, his voice small and young and frightened, “If we can’t trust him to know the truth?”
Rumpelstiltskin thinks for a moment, and then looks his son full in the face, “We, boy? We run.”
“Run?” Belle stares at him, “Where? Gaston will only follow, and new people in a new village will cause a stir, enough for someone to mention something, to ask a question.” She feels her blood pump faster and faster, her thoughts running into hysteria and panic, and she shakes her head, runs a trembling hand through her hair. “We can’t run, not now, not yet.”
“Then what do we do?” he is watching her intently, but at least he meets her eyes. The small part of Belle not currently screaming is a little comforted by that.
“I… I have to talk to him.” She says, quietly, almost numbly, and Rumpelstiltskin looks as if she has lost her mind.
“Talk? Belle, your name and face are on wanted posters from here to Agrabah: everyone is looking for you. You cannot go up to a knight of the realm and introduce yourself.”
But Belle has already shut down the crying, hysterical voices in her mind. All that is left is a numb, clear kind of plan forming. Something has to shift; something has to change. They will never be safe if all they do is run and hide.
“He’s not just a knight of the realm, he is someone who could help us.”
“And if not? If he has somehow changed since you last saw him, years ago? What then?”
“I… I don’t know.” She admits, and feels the tears run down her face anyway, splashing into her chamomile tea. All she’d wanted was the war to end; all she’d wanted was to marry someone who didn’t hurt her, someone kind.
She’d had one, and then the other, and neither had come out the way she’d intended.
Intention is, apparently, meaningless.
They sit in silence for a moment, and then Rumpelstiltskin shakes his head, “You can’t. You’ll lead the soldiers here; the only thing we can do now is leave.”
She stares at him, “Rumpelstiltskin,” she says, quietly, “They’ll come for Bae whether they find me or not. Running to another town won’t change that.”
Bae stares at her, and his father also. Rum looks so stricken, so suddenly astonished and terrified and hurt all at once, that she wishes she could pluck the words from where they hang in the air, pull them back as if she’d never said them at all.
But she can’t, and this is the truth they live with. No matter how hard Rumpelstiltskin wishes otherwise, no matter how many times he promises that it will never happen.
This is the world they live in.
“I’m going to talk to Gaston.” She continues, “Perhaps he’ll even help us.”
“Bae.” Rum turns to his son, “Would you mind going out and finishing the reel I’ve started? Your mama and I need to talk.”
She wonders if he used her almost-title deliberately, to remind her of her duties here. Either way, it cuts deep, and she almost winces. She’s never seen him anything close to actually angry, and it’s not so much frightening as it is physically painful.
Rumpelstiltskin would never hurt her: this much she knows from the almost two months she’s known him. And yet she is still horribly afraid of his anger.
“Belle…” she expects shouting, accusations, and yet his voice is low and quiet as always, “Do you… do you want to go to your knight?”
“He could help us.” She almost says ‘me’ but amends it at the last moment. This isn’t just about her, after all, but about Rum and Bae as well. The price of companionship - family, although the word still seems strange to apply to the spinner and his son - is care for more than just her personal happiness.
The words fall flat and weak, and she can almost understand the pain in his sad, dark eyes. Almost. “Perhaps he could claim to have found me dead?” she suggests, “Or he could give us aid in reaching another land. One without a war.”
“Belle,” he looks down at his hands, “If you… if you wish to return with this knight of yours… to leave us… you need only say so.”
“What are you asking me?” she doesn’t quite whisper the question, astounded by the idea that he could possibly be… jealous?
But then, she is his wife. With or without the love that was supposed to exist between husband and wife, perhaps a certain possessiveness is still to be expected. Does he think she would run back into the arms of her old love, and forget her life here, so easily?
“I will not keep a woman against her will.” Rumpelstiltskin is never gruff, not really, such standoffishness would require more strength of will, more self-belief, than her shy husband would dare to express. But she can almost see doors closing behind his eyes, emotion being shut off in favour of a blank, uncaring expression.
She is inclined to laugh at the idea, and she puts it down to sheer panic, “You could not keep me, Rumpelstiltskin, if I decided to leave.”
It is the wrong thing to say, and for easily the third time in this single conversation she wishes to stand and hurry around the table, to kneel at his side and wrap her arms around his waist. She doesn’t want him unhappy: his pain is hers.
Which is surprising, considering how they had not even truly been friends before their marriage.
“Bae will miss you.” He says, softly. As if she has already packed her things and thrown herself into Gaston’s arms; as if she has said anything of the sort.
“Why?” she frowns as if she doesn’t understand. That the stupid man would think her the sort to run away from the small and many hardships of this peasant life, in favour of an uncertain future as a princess, is almost laughable.
Gaston is probably married by now, anyway, she thinks. To someone far more suited to his straightforward, almost-simple minded, entirely honest nobility than she ever was.
“Your knight has come to save you,” she wants to smack that little, bitter smile from his lips. Her husband should only and always ever smile for happiness, for love and contentment. He should not smile to cover whatever sadness he is feeling, or to lie about his pains, “Bae will miss you when you’re gone.”
Her suspicions confirmed, she is torn between beating him over the head with something heavy, and kissing him breathless.
“You pack my bags so soon, husband?” she asks, coldly, “Have I overstayed my welcome?”
“Don’t stay here just because you have a band on your finger, wife.” He would spit, she thinks, if he were capable of malice. But he’s still her shy, sweet Rumpelstiltskin, for all that his face is hard and cold as she has ever seen it, and instead it comes out hopeless and dead.
There is a long pause, and then “You wouldn’t chase after me?” she asks, her voice soft and small. She doesn’t know how to feel, whether she is hurt by his lack of care or stunned by the knowledge that he would not hold her captive with her promises, “If I decided to leave?”
“You make your own fate, Belle,” he replies, with a sad little smile, “You killed the last creature who stood in the way of that.”
She winces, the idea that he could fear her, that his knowledge of her crimes could make him believe her capable of murdering a flesh and blood man. That he could think she would do the same to him, should he prevent her from leaving. She’d die first before allowing true harm to come to either the spinner or his son. They had already risked that and more to take her in, to shelter her from the world and its sharp teeth.
But then, she had known the acceptance of an early death before, and perhaps such feelings are worth less, when they come from a woman who leapt from a tower with no notion of anything breaking her fall. “Do not feign terror, husband,” she says, “There are too many things in this world that you should fear. Don’t pretend to believe that I am one of them.”
“You’re the least terrifying creature I’ve ever met.” He replies, and his smile is both reassuring and surprised, “I just… we couldn’t… you don’t belong here. You’re not a weak little peasant, you’re better than that.”
“I’m a runner and a thief and a murderess. That I once wore silks and a coronet means nothing now.”
“You act as if you wish to stay in the dirt with us.” Rumpelstiltskin frowns, as if he cannot believe what he’s saying. Belle can’t either, especially since the sentiment rings true.
She is so much more comfortable, here, with a patient husband and his trembling, artless kisses, and a boy who buries his face in her skirts when he is frightened. Even before the ogre prince’s bargain, before she was bride and whore and plaything, when she was a princess and a dutiful daughter, Belle could not have claimed to be anything as meaningful as she is here with them.
She could be happy, if she weren’t so certain this peace will be broken, and soon, and the pieces will fall sharp and hard, tearing at her skin.
“Gaston could come here right now and offer to sweep me away,” Belle says, carefully, “And I would ask only that he leave immediately, and report me dead to my father.”
“What did he do to you?” Rumpelstiltskin’s voice is hoarse, horrified, and Belle wishes she could pluck her words from the air and haul them back. She doesn’t need to recount this story, she doesn’t need to remember. He doesn’t mean Gaston, of this he is certain. But if he wishes to know her father’s tale, how she was allowed to fall so far and so fast, and hit the ground so hard, then he is asking the wrong questions.
“I… can we not talk about this?” she knots her hands in front of her, chews on her lip, almost frantically, “I don’t want… I can’t…” she takes a deep breath, looks up to see him watching her with warm, deep brown eyes, “Baby steps, yes?”
He nods, “Baby steps.”
They look at each other a moment, and then, with a little cry, she buries her head in her hands, laughing, “We’re terrible at this!” and the tension is broken.
After a moment, she hears him breath a small little laugh of his own. “Can we… can I just…” she shakes her head, starts again, “I need you to know that I’m in this. With you. Forever.” She holds up her hand, shows him her wedding ring, “I’m taking this seriously, you know.”
“You don’t have to.”
“And doesn’t that make it more meaningful that I want to anyway?” she asks, head tilted to one side.
She surprises herself, but him even more so, when she accompanies her question by leaning across the table, and pressing her lips against his. Their kisses, for their month of marriage, have been confined to their little attic bed, in the minutes before they curl up together, ready for sleep.
And yet, somehow, she can think of nothing better to do, in this moment, than to kiss him as deeply as he ever has her, to somehow reassure him that she truly is content to stay here.
She is his wife, and she could choose no better title for herself than that.
Perhaps, someday, she will be able to return to her home. Perhaps her father will regret his decisions, or the wars will end, or the kingdom will burn into such a mess of ashes and silverware that there will be no more dangers left to face. But whether they end up in this muddy, poor little village forever, or ascend to the highest seat in the land, she wishes him by her side.
He makes a strange little noise, surprise and pleasure and confusion all at once, but his lips part for her, and he leans as far as he can forward to kiss her deeper, to return her caresses with equal fervour.
Their month of practice has made them skilled, at least, in this: he strokes the little sensitive places in her mouth with his tongue, caresses her lips with his, and she is more than happy to return the favour.
Her eyes flutter closed somewhere along the line, her hands coming to cradle his face against hers.
It’s as impulsive and passionate a kiss as they’ve ever shared, and when they break apart Belle is surprised to find that she feels not one stirring of unease or fear in the pit of her stomach. All she wants is to be as close to her husband as possible; to prove to him that she means what she says.
He is staring at her, stunned, “What was that for?”
“For letting me go.” She whispers, and bites her lip, feeling it swollen from his kisses, “No one… no one’s ever done that for me before.”
“Well,” he replies, smiling a little bemusedly, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t take the offer.”
“Me too.” She kisses him again, and then once more for good measure, until they’re straining over the table and it’s getting uncomfortable.
They break apart properly, and for a moment they are both beaming into the space between them, as if sharing some secret little joke, a glorious moment that is theirs and theirs alone.
“We’re alright, then?” she asks, and he smiles in a manner that makes her warm all over: happy and a little sly and entirely wonderful.
“Better than.” He assures her, and she feels like she could lean over and kiss him again, if she didn’t know that if she did they’d never stop. But it’s the middle of the day, and there is work to be done.
Perhaps later she can kiss him again, and see how much further she can take things before the inevitable fear and worry gnaws at her stomach, and forces her to stop.
Strangely, and for the first time ever, she can’t foresee the moment when it will.
She nods, approvingly, and stands. She heads out toward the back, intending to get back to work on the laundry Bae had interrupted her on, when his voice - low and hesitant and sweet - stops her once more, “And… ah, the feeling’s mutual, dear.”
“What is?” she asks, turning back to face him.
“If you’re in… this, for good, then so am I.”
She bites her lip to hide her beaming smile - he has been her husband a month, and yet she is still surprised by how fond she is becoming of him - and nods, turning back and leaving into the small yard behind the house.
She feels, for all of a few moments, like a young girl given a flower by a boy she admires. She wishes to clap her hands and perhaps make an embarrassing little noise of happiness, and all because her husband affirmed that he wished her to remain his wife.
But Rumpelstiltskin is no boy, and Belle is no carefree young girl, and this happiness will last as long as their fragile little harmony.
She allows herself to indulge in it, washing the clothing and humming some old little song to herself, remembering his lips against hers, the warmth of his hand against her cheek, the little scrape of his almost-beard on her smooth skin.
But her mind soon turns to strange, soft new dreams. Suddenly she is seeing Bae, hugging her and calling her ‘mama’. She sees the war ending and the children coming home, and the freedom to simply live as Rose, wife of the spinner, in their quiet little home, the lost princess forgotten and lost to legend.
She sees small children, babies with blue eyes and soft, dark hair, his nose and her smile.
She jerks herself up sharply, and purposefully, pinches her own arm hard between her tough nails. She is not seventeen, in love and free to dream of soft, warm children and hearthside gatherings. She is not a girl with the freedom to imagine a quiet, peaceful world.
She forces her mind back to harsher things. She recites the food they have in the pantry, her meal plans for the next few days.
She even purposely thinks of the soldiers and their swords, and of Gaston, poor Gaston, riding through the town, searching for her.
Did she have these dreams for him, once upon a time? Did she imagine tall, strapping boys such as he, with perhaps her softer hair, or her smile, to soften his hard features on their faces? Did she ever think of their life together?
She owed him enough to send him a message. She just needed a little time to work out how to approach him, to know if he could be of use.
Practicality, purpose, and the usual, ever-present slice of fear overrode her girlish dreaming, and she welcomed them with open arms. At least these feelings, these thoughts, were honest with the pain they brought.
Her dreams promised her love and sanctuary, the soft warmth she had glimpsed in Rumpelstiltskin’s dark eyes as she left him in the house. But they could bring only pain, only more hurt, when they were ripped from her and she was left once more in the ashes.
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