Fic: Not A Princess But Still Fair
Title: Not A Princess But Still Fair (Boltholes and Safe Spaces)
Summary: Belle and Gold babysit Alexandra for a night, and watch a Disney movie.
A/N: Written as a part of Ched’s Birthday Spam. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEARIE!
Marchie prompted: “Feathers everywhere” ; “Belle and Gold babysit Alexandria” ; “Buttered popcorn” ; “She asks him to watch a Disney movie with her” ;
Rose had turned her big, sad, blue eyes on Rum, and really Belle thought he was a bit weak for folding so fast.
She’d said no more sleepovers, laid down the law after Rose’s fifth birthday party.
Rose and Alexandra are bad enough, but if they then add Emmett Athens, Gwen Welsh and Sarah Choblyn then they really had a problem on their hands. Belle likes her daughter’s friends, honestly she does: they’re sweet kids, really.
But they’re also nightmarish little creatures when left alone for five minutes.
Last time, she’d come upstairs to switch the lights off at 9pm and send them all to sleep, and found that Rose’s room had been the site of a rather nasty pillow-fight. Or pillow war, perhaps, because Rose, Alexandra and Emmett had decided to barricade themselves around Rose’s bed, and Gwen and Sarah were behind a wall of toys and boxes. There were feathers everywhere, and it was all rather organised for a childish game.
Rum had seemed rather less phased by it: he passed it off as children enacting old stories and left it at that.
He’d had his strange look when he’d said it, the one she always means to ask about but never has. Her husband is a wonderful, loving, caring father and the best friend she’s ever had, but there’re things she knows he doesn’t tell her.
But she trusts him to tell her all she needs to know, and more importantly, to keep her and her baby - their baby - safe from anyone who might do them harm.
Except when faced with the full force of Rose’s sad eyes. And Alexandra’s, as the sweet-natured and shy little blonde child hides behind her braver friend and adds her effort. Or Ashley Herman, when she mentions oh-so-casually that she and Sean really need a night to themselves. Ashley is phenomenally good at the guilt-trip eyes when she wants to be, and it’s a trait she seems to have passed on to her daughter.
Belle, however, is strong in the face of such an onslaught. Alexandra is not staying over: Rose is being punished this week, not rewarded.
She punched Holly Brennan on the nose when she called Gwen a rude word, and Mary Margaret Blanchard had no choice but to send her home when she refused to apologise.
Rum, of course, is inordinately proud of his little girl. But then, he is the parent telling his child to punch the bullies on the nose so they won’t come back, and Belle remembers how he put that method into practice - how she herself did the same - in the first six months of her daughter’s life.
But Belle believes first and foremost in allowing battles to be settled with words, and she knows - she knows - that Rum feels the same.
He still hugs Rose instead of scolding her, and asks very seriously if Holly’s nose had bled, and Belle is certain that ice cream was granted when she was busy calling Mrs Brennan to apologise.
She’s proud of her daughter too, of course, for standing up for the innocent. But there is a fine line between condoning one act of defence and allowing violence in general, and she’s not allowing her child to become a bully. Belle is worried by any violent streak Rose might possess, remembering the anger of her biological father, and the wounds he could leave when in the wrong mood. She’s happy for Rose to stand up for herself, to defend her friends and be a hero, but it’s a slippery slope.
Violence for the sake of it, or worse, for the enjoyment of it, is not something Rose should ever be allowed to indulge in.
So she is being punished, even while her dad looks at her with pride and Gwen’s parents are grateful and smiling.
But Ashley and Sean are younger than Belle and Rum, barely out of their teens, and they need to have some fun. And so when Rum comes to her and pleads their daughter’s case, promises various favours in return for her leniency - and how does he still make her blush even after five years of marriage? - She relents.
Alexandra and Rose are curled in their sleeping bags in front of the television set in the living room at nine pm, and Belle and Rum are more than happy to retire to the study - or just go to bed, although with two small children in the house that mightn’t be the best of ideas - before Rose turns to them over the back of the sofa.
“You’re staying, right?” she asks, and oh lord, Belle knows that look.
Her daughter can be a little odd about being left on her own, even with a friend. Some nights - and Belle forgets, of course, that Rose feels very differently about her parents than she herself did at her age - she seems unwilling to let her parents leave her to entertain herself. It’s just difficult to navigate, because there are other times when she can be left happily for hours, and even resent interruption.
Belle wonders if she made a mistake when Rose was younger, holding her so close. There’s much about her own life - her mother’s death, her father’s reticence and temper, the choices she made because of it - that Belle regrets, but she is at least proud to be able to live independently, if she needs to. She worries - she always worries - that Rose will cling on too hard, and be unable to live for herself.
But she’s still a young parent, for all that she’s got years on Ashley Herman, and all the books say it’s entirely natural for her to be concerned about everything.
“Of course, dearie,” Rum answers for her, and shoots her a reassuring look as he crosses to sit next to his daughter, and wrap an arm around her shoulders.
Her husband is the only person in the world who Belle knows can always make the world feel all right. So she nods, and says “I’ll get us some popcorn: is everyone alright with buttered?”
There is a little sound of assent from both of the children, as well as the man wedged beside them, and Belle has to smile a little.
The popcorn takes no time at all, but by the time they’ve returned, they’ve already picked a movie. Rose has chosen Mulan as her favourite movie, which kind of fits, when Belle thinks about it, and for reasons she cannot fathom she’s thankful her daughter did not pick something like Sleeping Beauty. Rose likes the battles and the songs, and the talking dragon: the ratio of pink to battle is to her liking. Alexandra, however, likes Cinderella, and Rum has always had impeccable manners when it comes to house guests.
How he manages to be both entirely courteous and utterly terrifying to anyone who stops by has always been beyond Belle, but there it is. Alexandra, at least, doesn’t appear to be scared of him.
Ashley certainly is, and Belle can relate. Were it not for a set of circumstances she has never managed to quite work out, the two of them would have been in the exact same position when their children were newborns. Ashley, however, had Sean. Belle had been entirely alone, until Mr Gold showed her his softer side; until she fell in love, and he with her.
But Alexandra knows none of this - neither does Rose, not really, and one day they’ll have to tell her, but not yet, not yet - and so all she does is smile and clap her hands when Rum announces that they’ll watch her movie.
Belle brings the bowl of popcorn over to the three of them, hands it to Rose who, absurdly, is the only one of the three trustworthy not to eat the whole bowl in one go, without sharing. Rose has some very strong opinions on sharing and fairness, on deals being good for both parties as well as technically sufficient.
She is six years old, but she doesn’t fall for her adopted father’s tricks. Belle is proud of her little girl.
Rum presses play on the DVD remote, and the movie starts. Belle isn’t a massive fan of this one - yes, the girl makes it out on her own, and she can support that, but the prince is kind of bland and more than a little stupid - but it’s mindless and she can watch from her armchair without paying much attention.
She hopes that her daughter’s sense of fairness, the little flourishes of nobility that Belle spies from time to time, will balance her willingness to get into fights.
Rose is only six years old, only six, just a little girl of six, and yet Belle can’t help but stare at her, and try to see the young woman she’ll become.
She’s not a coward, not like her mother: Rose doesn’t run, not the way that Belle became so good at when she was younger. Not yet, anyway, but maybe there’s a certain amount of conditioning that went into that. Belle had lost her mother, after all, whereas Rose will have her’s forever. Rose will never be without her mama, not if Belle has breath in her body.
Cinderella lost hers, as did Snow White, and the girl from Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas, too. Belle has watched every Disney movie under the sun, by this point, with a six-year-old to entertain, and she’s noticed a pattern. These girls have lost their mothers. These girls have to rely on someone else - a prince - for safety.
Rum Gold has always kept her safe, since the day he met her in the hospital and scared the living daylights out of her. A prince he may not be, but then Belle never was a princess.
But then, Cinderella lives in a tower (and what a fate that would be, to see the sky and never touch it, to know your own family locked you up) and Snow White is on the run, forced to cook and clean for strange men. Pocahontas threw herself on the man she loved to protect him from the blows of a boy who had claimed once to love her. Aren’t these all things Belle has done, at some point?
Belle even shares a name with the Beauty who lived with the Beast, and she fell in love with hers, the same as she did. But her kiss broke no spell beyond perhaps a thread of her own cowardice, and Beauty never had a baby to feed.
Cinderella’s fairy godmother sings a song (bibbity bobbity boo!) and the girl’s rags turn to a ball-gown. Alexandra claps her hands for joy, and Rose giggles at something her father said.
“Care to repeat that, dear?” Belle asks, eyebrow raised. It is, admittedly, more fun to watch movies with her husband than without. His commentary is usually worth hearing, if only because they share a sense of humour.
“Not really, no.” He replies, and she swears he’s about to stick his tongue out at her like a child.
“He said that all magic comes with a price, but she looks broke.” Rose reports, and Rum gives her a look. “What?”
“You didn’t have to snitch on me.” He still looks about four years old, for all that he’s a grown man in his fifties, and Rose giggles at the expression on his face.
“The godmother’s trying to help her.” Alexandra hugs her arms around herself, as if to protect herself from her friend’s father’s wicked little smile.
“How can you be so sure?” Rum asks, and Belle is tempted to throw a cushion at his head to shut him up. If this is the girl’s favourite story, then who is he to challenge her? Alexandra’s all of six years old, and a fair bit more normal than their own little one.
“Because she…” Alexandra stops, chews her lip, and Belle feels all of a sudden sympathy for the child.
“Because she’s kindly and sweet, and didn’t ask for anything in return.” Belle supplies, “Cinderella’s a good person, and good things come for those who work hard and try to be good in return.”
Alexandra smiles at her gratefully, but Rum is frowning. Another of those odd little looks she cannot understand. She puts it down to his being almost twice her age, and not exactly the most open and straightforward of men. He has his secrets as she has hers, but they love each other and he’ll keep them safe. Belle has learned not to ask for more than that.
She shoots him a look in return, along the lines of ‘remember what can be taken away if you piss me off’ and he hides the smallest of smiles as he looks back at the screen.
The couple dance, and it’s all very innocent, and Alexandra smiles and munches on her popcorn. Belle keeps an eye on her (her husband has corrupted her daughter’s mind with deals and dragons, but at least one child should be able to swoon over princesses still) and catches Rum’s eyes over the top of the children’s heads.
Their dances never go so innocently as Cinderella’s, of course. Mainly because they stand a damn sight closer, and his hands have a habit of straying from her waist.
Her husband is a good dancer, but impatient to move on to other things. She doesn’t discourage that trait in him: they are alike, in that regard, and her hands rarely remain in safe zones either with him so close. But she has to wonder if he would bow and play the gentleman, if she swept down the stairs to some party or other in a ball gown.
She’d like to find out, she thinks, and decides to bring it up sometime.
Finally, the movie ends (the glass slipper fit, but if shoe size is your only method of recognising your supposed true love then you don’t know each other well enough to marry, to Belle’s mind) and the children beg, as they always do, to sleep downstairs rather than in Rose’s bedroom.
Belle acquiesces, to everyone’s surprise, “Fine, but the TV stays below twenty volume, and no complaints when I get you up in the morning.”
“Deal!” Rose beams at her, and hugs her middle. Of course she means it now, but come morning there will be whining about tired eyes and they’ll both have low blood sugar, and it’ll all be far less peaceable than it is right now.
They make their goodnights, and Belle leaves for the kitchen rather than the bedroom. She washes up the popcorn bowl rather than puts it in the dishwasher, and is unsurprised when she feels a pair of strong arms wrap around her middle.
“Never took you for a fan of fairies, love.” Rum says, his voice low and mild and entirely wonderful in her ear.
“That one seemed benign enough.” She replies, as she places her hands back in the bowl and resumes her work. The bowl is pretty much clean, but she likes him holding her, and this will prolong the moment a little longer.
“Nasty, evil, biting things,” he says, “Every book would tell you that.”
“Cinderella is a Disney movie, Rum,” she chides, softly, “Let a little girl have her dreams.”
“Dreams are well and good, but reality has sharp teeth.” He kisses her neck again, a biting, scraping kiss, punctuating his point against her skin.
“She doesn’t need to know that yet.” She pulls the bowl from the water (enough is enough, time to speak face-to-face) and sets it to draining. She mops her hands on the dishtowel and turns in his arms. He is frowning, and she traces the lines with the tip of her finger.
“Rose already knows.” He says, so softly she might not even have heard it.
“Rose has us as parents,” Belle replies, “And she’s a fair bit brighter than her friend. Too curious for her own good.”
“You should’ve called her Alice.” He says, as her hand comes to cup his cheek, and his eyes hold hers as he leans into her palm.
“That’d be asking for trouble, wouldn’t it?” she snickers softly, “I don’t need her falling down rabbit holes - she falls over enough as it is.”
“Why did you pick that name, anyway?” he asks, pressing a soft kiss to her palm, and then her wrist. Sometimes it’s nice to just stand here, to touch and be close without the passion of really kissing or the need to take it further.
“I figured… well, I was exhausted and scared at the time, so my brain was doing silly things, but I thought…”
He stops kissing her and looks down, watches, eyes dark and intense, “What did you think, love?”
“I thought… George only ever wanted me because he thought I was pretty. And she…” she sighs, tries again, feels a little choked up “She was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I wanted her to have enough thorns to fight off anyone who tried to take advantage of that.”
“Well,” Rum huffs a little laugh and pulls her in, so he’s holding her as close as possible as she winds her arms around his chest, “She certainly has that. And if anyone gets past her own thorns and manages to hurt her, we’ll be there to stop them.”
“I didn’t really think of that.” Belle admits, and she’s not crying, she just got some soap in her eyes while she was cleaning, “I assumed she’d be alone, like me.”
This time, he does kiss her, but softly and slowly, comfortingly, “You’ll never be alone again, neither of you.”
“I just need her to be able to handle it if she is.” Belle cannot swallow promises of forever, not even really on her wedding day. She’ll always need to know that when the world falls down, she won’t fall with it. Rose needs to be the same.
“Spoken like a true fighter.” He comments, eyes narrowed as he looks down at her.
“Rose can be the fighter,” she replies, “I’m a runner, I always will be, a coward to my bones. And you’re… you’re some kind of wizard.”
“You’re not a coward, dearie. It’s quite simple, really: sometimes the brave need to pick their battles.”
“Hmm,” they’re startled out of their strange little conversation by a crash from the living room, and a childish little scream. They take off at a run, and find the ugly lamp (thank God it wasn’t the nice one; it was from Belle’s mama’s room and she’d have missed it) in pieces on the floor.
Alexandra is stood atop the sofa, Rose on the floor, and both girls are frozen and staring at the mess of broken pottery.
“What happened?” Belle sighs, as Rum goes wordlessly to fetch the dustpan and brush.
“I… Dragons make messes.” Rose says, but her voice is apologetic and pleading.
Belle slips into exasperated-parent mode, and packs the pair of them off to bed, and Rose isn’t allowed desert for a week because no one would believe that Alexandra broke the lamp, or had anything to do with it, really. Even Rose herself doesn’t protest her innocence too fiercely.
And yet, even as she’s doling out a suitable punishment and tucking the pair into bed in Rose’s room (nothing breakable in there, not with her destructive little daughter in residence), she has to be thankful for it all the same. Rose never tried to blame the damage on her friend. Not once. Her girl is a dragon, not a simpering princess or a wicked little witch-in-training.
Belle never worries again that her daughter could grow to be anything less than a hero.
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