Fic: Harmless - Chapter 10
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
Belle awakens from her slumber with a terrified scream on her lips. She would be been distressed - once upon a time she had sobbed through whole mornings - but now is an everyday occurrence, and it can be dealt with if not banished entirely.
Every night she dreams of ogres and castle dungeons, of scourges and flayings, and every day she spends trying in small ways to forget.
But she wakes up this morning, aching a little but in a less harmful way than she ever has before: she brought this small pain upon herself, and her husband had done all he could to decrease it. She is surprised, in fact, that there is any pain at all: Belle is hardly a maiden untouched, after all, and she had rather assumed her first husband had broken all the protections her body could have mustered.
That she aches so wonderfully reminds her that there is a new life, a fresh and untainted life, here in this bed with Rumpelstiltskin. A chance to start again, and perhaps to become whole and unbroken, the way she once was.
She rolls over, a small and sleepy smile on her lips, and intends to wrap herself around her husband, to hold him and perhaps kiss his sleeping mouth. She wishes to show some of the wonder, the gratitude, and whatever other emotions she can feel webbing around her heart, that she could not have expressed properly the night before.
Instead she finds the bed cold, empty, the blankets pushed aside and her husband’s sleeping-clothes crumpled at the foot.
She calls his name; no one answers. Again, louder, and again as a terrified shout, and still nothing. Silence. Dead silence.
She runs desperately through the house, and finds, to her horror, Bae gone as well, his bed unmade and his boots and cloak also missing.
That is when she starts to panic. She calls outside, through the windows, back up to the attic and out into the forest. Nothing.
Fear grips her harder, squeezing breath from her body, crushing her lungs and pounding in her heart.
They are gone. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.
She has allowed her husband to do his duty, she had stroked his hair and held him and he had been so scared, so very uncertain, almost as bad as she herself and so much worse at masking it. She had enjoyed having him so close, knowing that now truly, unbreakably, she was his wife and he her husband. She had had her husband take her, lead him upstairs as if she were a wanton and asked him to claim her.
She had wished it and willed it and enjoyed the act of it, when the fear left her, when he was so tender and she had felt safe.
And such things must bring the demons crashing at the door: Belle learned that in the hardest way possible.
Rumpelstiltskin is not a monster, not even a little bit. He is the least monstrous creature she has ever met. But even son, there are enough true demons out there ready to skin Belle alive, to tear her skin from her bones and punish her for every moment of happiness she found.
She slams the door with a pounding heart and shaking bones, and lets out a stifled little cry as she crumples to the floor.
She curls under Bae’s bed, arms locked around her knees, and sobs. Her mouth is open, a silent scream, but no sound escapes. She is safe if she is silent and hidden: she is safe if no one knows she even breathes.
The idea of the house never ringing with their voices again, left alone and dark and abandoned, makes her heart pound and her stomach turn, her skin covered in cold sweat and prickling nerves. She hasn’t been so rawly and purely terrified since she arrived here, and even longer since she worried so fiercely for someone other than herself.
She has always been so scared of being found: now she is desperate not to be lost.
She cradles her forehead on her knees, and unbidden sees behind her eyes the spinning wheel, still and gathering dust, its owner never to return. Bae’s toys left scattered on the floor - how many times had she told him to pick them up, and he had simply left them there anyway - untouched and unplayed with, left to rot, the boy who loved them so much forgotten. Of she herself, so recently having found a home and family, left alone in the village, too scared even to open the front door
For what if it had been the soldiers who took her newly-found family, her husband and the boy who is becoming more her son with every passing day? How could she show her face outside, be seen, when they could be waiting for her at any moment?
What if it is Belle herself the soldiers are looking for, and they took Rumpelstiltskin and Bae in punishment for not betraying her, or as bait to lure her out?
She decides, in her terror-soaked mind, it best to stay inside, and hide, and wait for a miracle or for her world to end.
But then, as sweet and beloved as music, she hears her boys’ voices coming up the road to the house, and they are not angry or terrified or urgent.
She is not able to make out the words themselves, only the voices of her husband and her boy, but they are warm and safe and almost happy, and she tears from the house with tears drying on her cheeks, and throws herself into Rumpelstiltskin’s bemused arms.
He is still a little in shock, she thinks, even now that she is stood at arms length and Bae has been dismissed back into the house.
This was not a discussion a child should hear, after all: Bae does not need, on top of all the other horrors in his world, to hear his parents fighting.
For that is what Belle is, she knows: she is Bae’s mama as much as she is Rumpelstiltskin’s wife, even if the boy himself may never call her that. For who else but a parent would become so frantic over an hour’s disappearance? Who could be so ready to scold, and all for love and the anxiety it brings?
But Rumpelstiltskin is another matter: he knew what he was doing. He left her in their marital bed, the morning after their first night as man and wife in deed as well as in word, and he has to see how cruel that act was.
“Belle-“ he starts, but she doesn’t let him continue.
“You left.” She cuts him off.
“I know, and I’m s-“
“No, husband, don’t apologise, not now.” She realises as she says it that she means it: if he apologises she will fall apart, she will sob and weep once more, and she won’t do that. Inside, alone, she had indulged in the frightened girl who ran from the dead ogre prince and was betrayed countless times along the way. Here she must be his wife, and the mother to his son. She must stand tall and say her piece.
“I hoped you wouldn’t wake until I returned,” he says, helplessly, “Please, Belle…”
“There is nowhere, nowhere, you could have needed to be before sunrise. I always rise before you, you know that, and so do I. Do you know how terrible it was, to wake and find that you had not only left but taken Bae with you?”
“Bae snuck along,” he explains, “He was supposed to remain behind.”
“While you… what?” she asks, “What were you possibly doing in the village before the sun was even up? The shops don’t open until an hour after sunrise, and-“ she is getting faster, louder, her voice rising in pitch to keep from catching and breaking.
He hears it, when she cannot speak anymore, when the tears start to fall and the knot in her throat is choking her, suffocating her, and his arms come around her immediately, holding her gently - so gently she might break from it - against him.
Her arms come up under his, and wrap around him as she buries her head in his chest. “I thought you weren’t coming home,” she manages to confess around her sobs, “Both of you.”
“We’ll always come home,” he soothes, one hand stroking her hair, the other holding her firmly against him. His staff is off somewhere on the ground: neither of them notice. “Or if not, you’ll be right there with us.”
“Don’t lie to me, Rumpelstiltskin,” she pleads, but she clings on for dear life. She had wanted to be so angry - and she is, furious in fact - but she is too relieved to see him, and she had been so very, very scared, that it seemed ungrateful to shout and scream when he was close enough to hold, and she had prayed so hard for it to be so. “Please.”
“I’m not,” he denies, chin rested on top of her head, “Belief is not a lie, is it? As long as we both believe that, then who can tell us we’re wrong?”
She pulls back, sniffles, but her arms are still locked about his torso, his hands splayed on her back. She smiles, but it’s weak, “When did you become a philosopher?”
He smiles, an oddly happy, almost smug little smile that she does not recognise on her husband, but is wonderful and a little wicked all the same. She imagines he must have looked like this when he was younger, before war turned him quiet and grave.
“Well,” he says, reasonably, “I passed the night with a truly beautiful woman in my arms. My sleep was bound to be somewhat disturbed: had to pass the time somehow.”
She can see that he is dodging her question, hiding something behind his eyes - dark and soft as fresh, soft earth and containing just as much sorrow - and yet she giggles, because she can’t help it. She ducks her head, and feels herself blush just a little: it has been so very long since someone thought her beautiful.
“Why, husband,” she smiles, “That sounds like something more suited to a young suitor than a husband to his wife.”
“Well, dear, you forbade me to apologise for this morning,” he reminds her, “I thought then that flattery might be a better course of action.”
She makes a small noise, somewhere between amusement and offence, and draws one hand back to swat him on the arm, “And here I thought you intended to court me,” she sniffed, “As if we were more than married for convenience.”
He gives her a funny look, frowning, his head tipped to one side as he examines her face. She feels warm under his scrutiny, her stomach knotted in another way entirely, and she wonders if this is simply the way of married men and women.
She didn’t get a chance to find out last time, after all. Her first husband was anything but a man.
“Would you like to be courted, Belle?” he asks, and she can hear the offer in his question.
She loses her words, all of a sudden, and wonders if the night before didn’t do for him as much as for her. She no longer feels nervous - in fact, she is comfortable and warm - in his embrace: perhaps she is not the only one who woke this morning with a little more confidence in her.
Even if it was, for her at least, torn and tattered a little by the ensuing fear of loss and missing family. Even if she did spend the early hours curled under her husband’s son’s bed, waiting for soldiers to rip the last of her to pieces.
But she is blushing - how long has it been since she blushed?
“Perhaps,” she says, finally, and all of a sudden she is sixteen and a girl, flirting with one of the younger knights of her father’s court. Before Gaston asked for her hand; before she left him to make a bargain, and regretted every moment.
And for all that is was he who asked the question, Rumpelstiltskin stares at her like she’s taken hime entirely by surprise, and has no idea what to do next.
Belle is in much the same position.
They meet in the middle, with a kiss that is both as tender as any the night before, and more desperate than any they’ve ever shared in their two months of marriage.
“But,” he says, heavily, as they part, “There are other things to discuss first.”
“Rum?” the dread is building in her gut again, and she looks up with a worried frown, remembering at long last that he never answered her question as to where he vanished to so early in the morning. “What did you do?”
He looks suddenly so guilty, so afraid, that the terror returns in a small, muted dose.
“Inside, dear,” he says, his voice once more low and grave, “Not out here.”
She nods, and takes his hand - she needs his hand in hers, his arm around her, something firm to remind her that he is here with her and alive and not in some dungeon somewhere, or worse, left for dead by the roadside - following him inside.
“Bae,” she says, when her eyes meet those of their boy, hurriedly sweeping the floor, “Would you-“
“No,” Rumpelstiltskin cuts her off, “No, he must stay. He heard things I did not.”
“Heard things?” she asks, puzzled, as they settle around the table. Her hand doesn’t leave her husband’s. “From whom?”
Rumpelstiltskin looks at her, as if bracing himself for a blow, “From your knight.”
She stops dead for a moment, her whole body freezing, words and sounds caught in her throat. She doesn’t know if the gnarling, grasping twisting of her stomach is betrayal or anger or just pure, primal fear, but she lets out a horrified gasp, one trembling hand to her mouth.
“Why?” she demands, once she can get the words out, “Why would you go and talk to him? To lead him here?”
“No, no,” he tries to soothe her but Belle is wound tight as a bowstring and ready to explode, “No, of course not.”
“Did you tell him you knew me?” she asks, “Did you… did you tell him we were married? Did you lay your neck out to let him sever it himself, or did you offer to cut your throat on your own?”
“Belle,” Rumpelstitlskin squeezes her hand, as she grows hysterical once more, “Belle, he doesn’t know our names, and we were not followed.”
“He knows your faces.”
“And will he come looking?” he asked, “No. He gave his word to not find you without your permission.”
She looks to Bae for confirmation, and the boy - his eyes wide and worried, glancing between his parents and chewing his lip anxiously - nods. “He did, Belle. I promise.”
And Bae wouldn’t lie, and Gaston - the Gaston she was raised with and came to trust, if not love - is a man of his word.
“But,” Rumpelstiltskin says, heavily, “There is more. He won’t come for you… because he wishes you to go on your own.”
Belle lets out a shrill little giggle, high-pitched and almost eerie, “And why does he imagine I would do that? There is a price on my head, and soldiers hunting me down. I could not be taken into my childhood home in any way but bound in chains.”
“He’s not asking that you be captured,” Rumpelstiltskin explains. “He… your father is… your father will fade soon. He’s dying.”
She was shaking, silent, sobbing but silent. To make a sound would be to make a cry like a wounded animal, and to fall apart.
“Then what?” she swallowed, hard, around her grief. There would be time to hurt later, after all. “Why do they even need me? There is hardly a duchy left to rule!”
Bae takes over as his father glances to him, a little helplessly. The boy straightens, frowns a little, and for a moment the little boy she knows now vanishes into the young man he will so soon become, grave and intelligent and serious. “The Dark One. He told me that without you he’ll be free, and then we’re all in danger.”
She feels her heart pound, her stomach sink. So they’ve done it: they’ve done as her father had always threatened, and summoned the Dark One to their service. A creature such as he will not wish to be bound to a petty lord’s service: his revenge, upon his freedom, will be swift and great.
“Oh, gods.” She breathes, and felt something inside her break.
“The ceremony,” Rumpelstiltskin continues, unhappily, “Involved your father’s blood. Only one with the same can control him.”
“It has to be me.” She says, numbly.
Really, it is typical, even predictable: she should have seen it coming. She herself had begun the research into summoning the power contained in the dagger her father kept in his war room, and when she left she had hardly imagined it would be abandoned.
The blood of the blood on the blade.
“Your knight appears convinced so, yes.” Rumpelstiltskin confirms, heavily, “Which is why we have to leave. Tonight. We have to go before he can break his word and find you.”
“Go?” she gives a choked little laugh, “Go? Where? Do we find a realm-jumper and leave this world to burn? Do we try to be villagers in the town over, and the next, and the next, one step ahead?”
“We leave.” He repeats, “They’re asking for you to give your life, and you’ve already given so much. Too much.”
“Running won’t solve anything.” She cries, “Running only makes them chase faster.”
“You don’t have to do this,” he begs, “You don’t have to solve anything! You have done nothing but try to solve things, and-“ he stopped, horrified, as if appalled by the words which now hung between them.
“And look at what a mess I made in the process.” She finishes, coldly, calmly, “Yes, thank you for that.”
“Belle-“ Bae starts, but she can’t be a mother right now. She can’t pretend to be more than she is: a frightened, overburdened, terrified little girl who can never, ever run, not fast enough, not far enough.
No matter how deep she tries to hide, how small and dark and warm the hole in which she buries herself, the world always finds her.
“Bae, go out and start the spinning.” Rumpelstiltskin instructs, “I’ll be out in a while.”
Bae nods, and Belle thinks the boy glad to be gone.
It can’t be easy, she thinks, growing up in a world where adults cry and scream and run as hard as children do. Her childhood had been built in peacetime: she can’t imagine how she would have made it this far without those memories to hold her steady.
“That isn’t what I meant, Belle,” he says, urgently, taking both her hands in his “You know that. I just… this isn’t a problem you should have to give your life to solve.”
She is crying, tears streaming down her cheeks, but her heart is hard and resolved. She has made her decision; she cannot not run as he would.
“I gave myself to the ogres,” she says, her voice trembling but clear, “Me. And I broke that promise, and murdered their chosen son in his sleep. The war is being fought because of my betrayal, and so they summoned the Dark One because of me. This is more my problem than anyone else’s.”
“You had no choice,” he says, “They could not expect you to endure whatever horrors you have been made to face. No one is strong enough for that, no one. This isn’t your fight.”
“My words on the parchment, his blood on my hands, my blood on the blade.” She says, eyes clear, choice made, “This is nothing but my fight. And it’s not a sacrifice, not at all: I have to go and face the fire.” She looks down at their hands, knotted and tangled together between them, and a tear splashes on his hand and hers, “And I have to be there. If only to say goodbye.”
He stares at her, “You won’t be safe.”
“If it were Bae.” She says, quietly, “If you had lost Bae, and you were dying, wouldn’t you want him to come home? Wouldn’t you need to see him one last time?”
She sees the moment he understands, the moment when he realises that she is lost in this. The Dark One is a matter too terrifying to even contemplate, but she had read enough to know that the dagger - under the right circumstances - could be destroyed.
Perhaps, as the girl who killed an ogre in his own bed, the title of the woman who slew the Dark One would make her fearsome.
Perhaps she could make a deal and end the war, with that kind of influence.
She needs time, sleep, calm, in order to formulate such a plan. But the truth of it, the heart of it, is that she cannot allow her beloved father to die without so much as kissing his forehead and saying goodbye.
The thought brings a lump to her throat, but it needs to be done.
Even if he has sent his soldiers for her, and asked for her returned in chains. If he is dying someone else may be running things: if he is dying perhaps he would welcome her home.
Perhaps she could go home.
“Will you come with me?” she asks, voice shaking and weak as she swallows hard, “You don’t have to. I won’t make you. You can run and I’ll go alone.”
“I promised, didn’t I?” he says, although he sounds no braver or surer than she does, “You’ll always be with us.”
She laughs, sniffs, swallows hard, and his thumb comes to rub the tears from her cheeks.
“Does that mean you’ll drag me with you when you bolt?” she asks, “Or that you’ll come with me to the castle?”
“It means.” He takes a deep breath, shuddering, terrified, “That we must do what we must.”
“And what is that?”
“You won’t be happy… and so none of us will… unless you feel you have done what needs doing.”
“I have to say goodbye,” she says, “And I have to make sure that my homeland is safe from the monsters I unleashed.” He doesn’t argue the point: he doesn’t have to. “So I need to go back to the castle. If only for a day or two.” She looks at him, at his warm eyes so clouded by fear, his desperation to be brave for her and his certainty that he can’t be. “But I promise: I won’t do anything to put Bae in danger. Or you. I couldn’t-“ she swallows hard, sniffs, “You come with me, hold my hand, and in return… in return I keep us as safe as I can.”
“Do we have a deal, Rumpelstiltskin?” she asks, needing his agreement. Needing him to understand that she would do anything to keep them safe.
“Belle…” he looks down at their hands, clasped tight, and she hopes he can see that she never intends to truly let go. He is her family now, him and Bae, and this is what needs doing to keep it that way. That is all that matters. “Alright. Yes. Deal.”
“Then to the castle we go.” She give him a smile, small and pitiful but true, and he responds in kind.
He kisses her a moment later, out of nowhere, as if he is a boy who has just gotten up the courage to do so. She leans in, kisses him back, curls herself around his side where he sits on the bench, and lets his warmth cover her, envelop her.
He will keep her safe: he faced a knight and a sordid history, and a story of demons for her this morning. Her tender, fearful, harmless husband, and he braved the wolves for her.
So she will keep him safe, and the boy she wishes more each day was truly hers. She will do anything that is needed to keep them with her, to keep them from having to fight or die. They are her family, and she will keep them safe.
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