So, I started my first multi-chapter Rumbelle fic, and I’d love to know what you think about it!
running is what scared people do.
At 25, Belle was content with the life she made for herself in New York. She had a good job, a nice flat and a lot of plans for her future. That was until a fateful call brought her back to the past she was not ready to deal with.
Non-Magical AU, where Moe is an asshole and Belle has to clean up his mess without making a bigger one herself.
Rumbelle enjoying juicy produce (either smutty or not)
There were certain drawbacks to living one's life in an eternal summer's day.
Belle's skin was one of them. She'd always been fair, her milky white skin inherited from her mother. She almost envied her husband's darker complexion. A day spent outdoors at the Edge of Realms resulted in nothing but a nice tan on Rumple. But for Belle, well, she was pink as anything, freckled after a time, and starting to wrinkle.
She'd brought SPF with her, along with some other modern conveniences from Storybrooke. But the passage of time and the sun damage were catching up with her. Belle stared at her reflection one evening, if you could call it such when the sun never actually set, and pulled at the skin around her eyes, trying to smooth it. No matter how she moisturized, she couldn't combat it. She had crows feet.
She gave a sigh, tossing her pot of cream down on the dresser before her. She'd never thought of herself as a particularly vain woman, but when one had always been beautiful, the fading of it was rather difficult. Especially when one's husband didn't change at all, the years never showing on his face despite the centuries he'd lived.
Belle had just celebrated her 46th birthday. She was physically of an age with Rumple. And yet...
She felt old. She'd raised a son, traveled the realms, retired. She had a garden out back behind the house that they'd built with their own two hands. She'd been proud of it, the tomato plants and fruit trees she'd been able to tend in to life. The eternal summer's day at the Edge of Realms had been good for one thing. Belle's garden had never been more thriving. She had tried, at various points in Storybrooke, to grow fresh fruit. The harsh Maine winters had made it nigh impossible. But here, here she could grow anything she could imagine.
She was an old woman, tending her garden, and waiting for death. Belle shut her eyes, blocking out the sight of her crows feet. It was what she'd wanted. It was what she'd planned for. Rumple would never be free of the Dark One curse until the sun set on her life. That's why they were here. But deceiving her husband never got easier. He was happy here. He would be happy anywhere with her. And yet her secret weighed on her conscience.
And now she wasn't even beautiful for him. Did he really want to spend the next forty or fifty years here in this house with her, a fading flower?
"Belle!" came an excited voice from downstairs and she sat up straighter at her vanity. "Belle, come quick!"
She startled at Rumple's frantic voice and collected herself. She rushed down the stairs to where Rumple was standing at the back door leading in to their garden.
"I think they're ready!" he exclaimed, grabbing her hand and pulling her into the back yard.
Belle followed along in his wake, caught up in his exuberance.
"What is it, Rumple?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Look!" he exclaimed, pointing at a tree in front of them, one Belle had planted shortly after they'd arrived.
It had been normal that morning, just a tree covered in green leaves. But now, now it was bearing fruit, large pink peaches hanging from the boughs, making them sag beneath the weight.
Rumple reached up and plucked one, giving it a sniff before handing it to Belle.
"Smells ripe to me," he said in a jubilant voice, one that reminded her of a time lifetimes ago in the Dark Castle when he'd looked so different.
Belle cupped the fruit in her hands, looking down at it. The fuzzy pink flesh of the peach had just the right amount of give. Despite it not existing that morning, it was at perfect ripeness this evening. Time was passing so very quickly. She looked up at her husband, her true love, the only man she'd ever loved. It wasn't enough time.
"Try it," Rumple prompted, giving her a nod.
Belle took a bite, sweetness bursting across her tongue and peach juice dripping down her chin. It was sweet and firm and perfect. She'd never tasted anything so perfect.
She pulled back, chewing and wiping a hand against her mouth.
"Delicious," she said, offering Rumple a bite. He took the fruit from her hand, taking a bite next to where her own had been. He closed his eyes, savoring the freshness of the flavor.
"Now that's a delicious peach," he said with a smile. He reached out a hand to wipe a bit of wetness from Belle's chin, popping his thumb in his mouth. "Almost as sweet as you."
Belle's eyes darted away from his, looking over across the vast valley next to their homestead.
"Not as ripe as I once was," she said, her earlier insecurities coming to the fore.
"What?" Rumple asked, genuinely confused.
Belle leveled him with a look. "I know you love me," she prefaced. "But I also know you have eyes. I'm getting older, Rumple."
"You're beautiful," he said, earnestly. "As beautiful as the day I first saw you. And as ripe as this peach,"
He took another bite of it, grinning at her through a mouthful. "Delicious."
Belle rolled her eyes.
"I'm not a ripe little peach anymore, Rumple. I'm...weathered. Turning in to a gnarled old tree."
Rumple's brows knitted together as he tossed aside the peach, looking at her with concern.
"Belle, you are the most beautiful woman I've ever met in over three centuries of life. And more than that, you're the kindest, best, most wonderful person I could ever hope to meet. Frankly, you deserve far better than me and always have. You loved an ugly man, and made him feel worthy of it. A few lines and wrinkles don't change that."
Belle looked up at him, feeling stupid for letting her insecurities get the better of her.
"So you don't mind that I'm getting old?"
Rumple snorted. "Physically we're about the same age. I finally don't look like the cradle robber everyone believes me to be. Belle, you get sexier with every passing day, you know that right?"
She blushed, looking down at her feet. "Really?"
Rumple pressed a hand to his chest. "Clearly I've failed in my duties as your husband if you even have to ask."
Before Belle could respond he'd scooped her up into his arms, carrying her bridal style back in to the house.
"What about the peaches!" she cried as he kicked the door open with his foot.
"They'll still be there tomorrow," he said with a smirk. "But my wife needs proof of how desirable she is right now."
Belle wrapped her arms around his neck, giggling as he took the stairs two at a time up to their bedroom. And when he kissed her, it tasted like peaches. As fresh as her love for him.
The Changeling, Chapter 4
Summary: Belle and Lacey had always been as different as two twins could possibly be, but always ready to do whatever it took for each other. Which includes Belle putting her life in pause to replace Lacey in hers as she checked herself into rehab to kick a drinking habit that could potentially end her modelling career. All she had to do is attend some fittings, do a couple of photoshoots, avoid if possible the slimey and two-timing Killian Jones and steer clear of Lacey’s boss, Mr Gold, and his suspicious nature.
How difficult could it possibly be?
A/N: This fic just earned its rating.
It felt brutal to have to prepare for her dinner with Jones right after the disaster with Gold, but Belle was glad to at least be distracted. She immersed herself completely in the role of her sister, doing her hair and make-up exactly the way her twin preferred, with a more pronounced cat eye, false eyelashes and a harsher contour, picked clothes from the side of her wardrobe she had previously left untouched and made her hair extra messy. It helped both channel her sister’s personality and get out of her own head and her own problems. The blue sequin dress and towering heels fit in well with the ambiance of Neverland, which seemed to be going for an “expensive dive bar” vibe. Jones was charming at first, kissing both her cheeks and escorting her to the VIP section, where he offered her a glass of champagne before she could even sit down, hands lingering rather forcefully on her till she pulled away. Clearly he meant to have her drunk before the night was out. Belle took a sip of the drink- too dry for her- and put it down, watching as he took notice of it.
He insisted on small talk, likely hoping he could wait her out and get her drunk before any meaningful conversation took place. Finally, when it became very clear that would not happen, he signalled for a passing waitress to take their order and got down to business.
“I want you to do a little favour for me, Lace. A mutually-beneficial one, mind you. Just like it has always been between us.”
The implication was plain, adding to the strange mixture of sex appeal and underlying cruelty that seemed to make up most of Jones’s personality. Dangerous, in a way that she knew Lacey liked, only she was too smart not to see the foolishness of it. However, the Irishman seemed to be having a problem processing the fact that her twin did not want to have anything to do with him anymore.
“What kind of favour?”
Rejecting anything from the getgo would be impossible, she knew. It would serve only to provoke Jones further, and would leave her in the dark as to what he was trying to get her involved into.
“I’ve told you something about it already, but I guess the night might be a bit of a blur, considering how much you enjoyed yourself. Just a piece of cake, really, nothing that should pose a problem for you.” His tone was casual, as was his posture, but it all seemed the littlest bit forced. There was tension on his shoulders.
“I’ve got an associate interested in some designs from the fashion house you work for. Not a direct competitor, just a fast fashion company looking to get ahead and make some cash. It shouldn’t impact the brand and its rich customers. It’s more of a victimless crime, really. And it could make you a lot of money, which at this late stage of your career, love, must be very tempting. House of Gold is not going to keep you employed in your old age, after all. You’re likely a few years away from being discarded at this point, I’d wager.”
The mixture of smarmy charm and dismissive derision was revolting, smoothly brandishing Lacey’s insecurities against her to try and get her on his side. Belle was suddenly very happy that Lace had gotten help when she did, and understood why she had to get away from her life entirely to do it. Killian Jones was likely like a millstone around her neck, dragging her twin down.
“You must be under the impression I got into the fashion business yesterday if you think I would believe that leaking the designs in something like Shein or Romway would in no way impact the launch of the collection or the brand. Give me a little credit, Killian, condescension is not charming.”
He shifted imperceptibly, his expression hardening, though his smile remained in place and his manner remained outwardly pleasant. But his eyes were cold, dead, the sort of expression that let her know he cared little about her wellbeing, and would not be above hurting her. Belle got the sickening feeling he might already have laid hands on Lacey. Likely the thing that had woken her sister up in the first place.
“I don’t want things to be unpleasant between us, Lace. I have a great appreciation for you. You’re gorgeous, fun, and you’ve brought good business to my bar. And I value that, I do, but it doesn’t erase the debt between us.”
“What are you talking about?”
Belle took a sip of champagne, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. This, she knew, was what had pushed Lacey past the breaking point, what had sent her running to California.
“I didn’t want to have to remind you of the videos, love. The photos. I’ve been good about keeping them off the press and social media, because I am a good friend. And I want to remain so.” It was grotesque, the contrast between his open and amiable demeanour and his icy tone and dead eyes. “Get me the sketches and I’ll keep what I know about you to myself. And you’ll make a good bit of money for your trouble. What’s the downside, love?”
Belle could only imagine what he meant when he talked about videos and photos. Lace was too smart and protective of her career to let anyone film her during sex, but most of the time she had spent with Jones she had been likely drunk, so she may not have noticed. Or he could simply mean he had videos of her making a fool of herself while blackout drunk. Those, depending on how bad they were, would instantly kill her career.
Still, she could not play into Jones’s hands. Stealing the sketches was not a possibility, nor was it a guarantee of anything. The more she gave into the Irishman the more he was likely to use more blackmail.
“I’ve lost my appetite. You’ve become a poor host Killian, so please lose my number or better yet, forget I exist.”
Hoping that her legs wouldn’t fail her, Belle stood up, grabbed her purse, and walked out of the bar, thankful that the main floor’s lights were low and no one noticed her. A quick cab ride had her safely back in Lacey’s apartment, where she shedded her sister’s party clothes and jumped into the shower, wanting to get rid of the smell of smoke and the stench of Jones’s overpowering cologne. There were some bruises where he had grabbed her, but nothing in any place that would force her to explain herself later.
There was nothing she could do for Lacey, other than make it clear to Jones that his relationship with her sister was over. Perhaps he would not carry out his threat if he understood he’d gain nothing from it, but she rather doubted it. He seemed like the sort of person who didn’t make empty promises.
She hadn’t thought that was the last of it, but still the news that someone had broken into Jefferson’s atelier and rifled through his wall safe came out of nowhere. A few sketches from the latest collection had been stolen, which would not have alerted most people, even suspicious minds who might have thought to check continuously. But Jefferson, as a designer, had a keen eye for detail and had caught the discrepancy almost at once. The speculation was that whoever took the designs had planned to return them in a few days so that their crime remained unnoticed, though it was now quite impossible.
She was unsurprised when there was no police report. The news getting out there would do more harm than good, better it be handled internally. Jefferson was beside himself, oscillating between dramatic despair and uncharacteristic anger. Gold’s fury was quieter, but it pervaded every corner of the fashion house, like an ominous cloud. It had everyone speaking in hushed whispers about it, rumours flying around about how it had been an inside job, given the lack of damage to Jefferson’s door or the impossibility of anyone from the outside bypassing the strict security protocols to gain access to the building in the first place.
It was through the rumour mill that she also found out when the interrogations began. People, seemingly at random, began to be called into Gold’s office on the top floor, and most seemed to leave at least an hour later and either angry or crying. But it wasn’t until Ruby was called in for a talk and showed up a couple of hours later, crying and being comforted by Granny that Belle knew the reason only some people were questioned, and how they were chosen.
“He asked me about Granny’s health. She had an operation a few months ago, a hysterectomy due to a routine check-up revealing cancer. That fucking bastard made it seem as if he was concerned about her at first, about her recovery. But then he mentioned we had recently purchased property. Granny and I had been saving for years to buy our own apartment, and right after we purchased it she got the cancer diagnosis. So he knew there was no way either of us had the money to pay for the operation that saved her life. Which meant we had gotten a considerable amount of money from an unknown source.”
It turned out that source had been Lacey. It explained Ruby’s unwavering loyalty, and why she had refused to tell Gold where the money had come from.
“If I tell him Lacey lent me the money he’ll suspect her! Well, you, but really her. It doesn’t help that she used to be involved with Jones, who he seems to be convinced is the person behind all this. That alone would give him more than enough justification to fire Lacey, which is something I’m sure he’s always wanted to do.”
Belle wasn’t so sure about it, but she couldn’t tell Ruby that. Whatever her relationship with Mr Gold was, something had changed between them, something profound. Still, she was likely to be a prime suspect. Gold knew she had recently dined with Jones, and she was one of the few people with easy, continuous access to Jefferson’s office. So she waited to be called, determined she would take the opportunity to clear up the situation with Ruby and her Granny, make it clear she had lent them the money.
But, though other people were called into Mr Gold’s office, he never once asked for her. In the end it was her the one to barge into his office on a Friday afternoon, after an entire week of feeling on edge about the idea of being summoned. Unlike the Library, Mr Gold’s office was decorated to breed fear, in shades of black, white and gold. There was a coldness to it that she imagined worked well to put people in a state of unease. Belle thought that it didn’t really suit him at all. Too barren and too impersonal, for one, lacking any personal touches.
“Miss French, did we have an appointment my assistant failed to inform me about?”
Belle spared a thought for jumpy little Anna, who luckily had already left for the week. Mr Gold kept hours that, to his credit, he did not force onto others.
“No, but I thought it important that we talked.”
“Can’t imagine whatever about.”
It hurt, the way he tried to imply there was nothing of substance between them, but she could hardly blame him for it. She had always been the one to pull away, to reject him. She couldn’t fault him for wishing not to acknowledge their history at all.
“Ruby told me what you said to her. What you implied. It’s vile and you know it. Ruby and Granny are loyal to this fashion house, they would never betray Jefferson or you. They didn’t deserve what you put them through.”
She was surprised to see something akin to regret flicker across Gold’s eyes before it winked away.
“Wasn’t personal, dearie, just business.”
“That’s not how it felt to them and you know it.” Belle paused, breathing deeply. This was it. “Besides, you had nothing to suspect them for. I lent them the money for Granny’s operation.” She was happy when she saw his eyes widen in surprise, relishing in being a step ahead of him for once. “Ruby was just too good a friend to tell you. She’s worried that you’ll suspect me and, honestly, why wouldn’t she be? I make way more sense as a suspect.”
“Ridiculous.” He dismissed the idea as if it had no merit at all. “Out of the question.”
“Why?” She didn’t know why she was insisting, she should be glad he was willing to overlook her for some reason. “I should be a suspect. I should be the suspect, frankly. You know I’ve recently had a date with Killian Jones, which I know you think is behind all this.” Belle paused, debating on whether to tell him more, but deciding he needed to know. “You’re not wrong, by the way. Jones did ask me to steal the designs. I told him no.”
“Of course you did.”
It was maddening, how he seemed determined to put her beyond suspicion. He didn’t look her in the eye, busying himself with some documents he seemed to be pretending to tidy up from the wrong side of his desk. It made it difficult to gauge his reaction, which she supposed was the point.
“Why do you believe me?”
“Because I know you. You’d never do that.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I’m not some stranger, not to you. I know you. Whatever else you want to say about us there’s an intimacy, a closeness, that you can’t deny.” He moved away from his desk, finally turning around to face her. “We’re more than fucking business acquaintances. That’s how I fucking know.”
He had advanced on her as he spoke, his tone accusatory at first but softer and more desperate the longer he talked. Suddenly his cavernous office felt small and intimate and the air seemed charged with something. Slowly, tentatively, as if afraid of her reaction, he moved closer, his head lowering till his forehead rested against hers. He didn’t push or move beyond that, did not try to impose himself in any way. Rather the opposite, he looked down at her pleadingly, submissively, begging for something he did not wish to take for himself. After so much rejection she could not fault him for his shyness, but was rather charmed by it.
Belle knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was her that initiated their third kiss, raising up on her tiptoes to brush her lips against his. Thankfully it seemed to be all the encouragement he needed to take the lead, growing equal parts bold and desperate as he encouraged her to open her mouth to him and deepen their kiss, his one free hand clutching her waist so hard it hurt a bit. But it was a welcome sort of pain, blending well with the sizzling pleasure raising up and down her spine. She almost felt like she was feeling too much, her nerve-ending unable to cope with the multitude of sensations, as well as the intensity of them.
When she broke the kiss it pained her to hear him whimper and clutch her even closer. He expected another rejection, obviously, though it was the furthest thing from Belle’s mind. She was past the ability to refuse him.
“I-I don’t even know your name. Feels a little wrong to be doing this without knowing it.”
Having been reassured he would not be turned away he seemed to wish to get straight back to it, and when she playfully pulled her lips away from his he sought the crook of her neck instead, nuzzling the skin before setting his teeth to it, each nip as delicate as it felt branding.
His voice was barely understandable, too busy as he was to control his carefully-curated accent, but she liked it, liked the way his name seemed to resonate against her skin. She whispered the name against the shell of his ear, which seemed to turn him slightly feral, the last shreds of his abused self-control tearing away. But she needed to tell him something, before both of them lost the ability to think coherently. Something important, but also risky.
“My name’s not Lacey.” She paused, wishing she could follow that small confession with an honest recount of everything else she had been keeping from him. But she couldn’t, so half-truths would have to suffice. “Lacey’s a stage name.” Her sister’s name was actually Larissa, Lacey was a childhood nickname that she had turned into her modelling name and, later on, into her brand. She held tight to Rowan, preparing herself to take the leap. “My name is Belle.”
He rumbled the name, as if testing it out, his accent wrapping around the scant few letters, dragging it out and making it into a new sort of sound. And having him calling her that did away with whatever doubts remained in her. How she had managed to push him away twice she didn’t know, and it seemed stupid now to ever have considered it. She embraced him fiercely, delighting in his growl of approval, as if he could sense her complete surrender. His touch turned possessive and urgent, his hand fumbling with the buttons of her long-sleeved blouse and the fastening of her skirt, his dexterity and ability to undress her one-handed a testament to his years doing more menial work in the fashion world, and long years spent navigating the world with one hand almost perpetually attached to his cane.
She felt clumsy compared to him but she tried to reciprocate, which turned into a vicious little tug-o-war between them. Naturally, as if planned, they moved towards a corner, where the only piece of furniture that looked remotely comfortable was located, a sleek, charcoal-grey sectional that Belle was pretty sure was a sofa bed, and that was the reason it was not upholstered in leather or supremely uncomfortable.
Not that either of them had the patience or presence of mind to turn the sofa into a bed, Belle all but throwing Rowan into the couch’s cushions, happy when he let go of his cane and she could freely manoeuvre the shirt off him, her hands falling to the buckle of his belt as he hauled her to him, a happier version of their previous encounter in the library.
“I’ve dreamt about this.”
His voice was raspy and low as he beheld her above him, down to her undergarments. She thanked God that the nature of Lacey’s job demanded she always had on tasteful underwear, which meant she was wearing a nice pale pink set from Kiki de Montparnasse, the balconette bra decorated with enough lace to be modest while still being alluring. Lacey had always said there was a power to it, but for Belle lingerie had always been mostly about her own enjoyment, about the private knowledge of wearing something so delicate and beautiful. And though lately lingerie had lost a bit of its mysticism due to it becoming a routine thing, it still made her feel powerful to be wearing it and sharing it with someone else, to see his eyes linger on the part where the delicate pink lace met her skin.
With a delicacy that he had not afforded her other garments Rowan set his hands to the hook of her bra, unclasping it with care before sliding the straps off her shoulders. Belle thought that she ought to feel shy about it, despite how used she had gotten to being half undressed in front of complete strangers in her brief period as a model, but she didn’t. She felt safe, and the nervousness sizzling in her veins was more akin to anticipation.
“You’re fucking gorgeous.”
Rowan’s growl was as flattering as it was exciting, as was the heated look in his eyes. It was difficult to remember the glacial, indifferent expression he had worn around her when she had first met him. While people might call him unfeeling the truth was quite the opposite. The man beneath her seemed to be brimming with emotions, bursting with feelings that played across his expression, easy to read. It left Belle feeling dizzy with power, and conscious of how easily she could misuse it. Delicately, she leaned forward, hands braced on his chest as she gave him a small, simple kiss, hoping to make them both more comfortable by easing them into the process, building the anticipation like something to be enjoyed. Slowly, began to calm down, to lean back against the cushions as she slowly deepened their kiss, opening her mouth and then delving into his, humming at the taste of Scotch she could detect now that things weren’t hurried. She could also feel the strength of him, the corded muscles in his arms and the firmness of his thighs. Underneath all that virgin wool and pressed silk he still was very much the young boy that had grown up impoverished and unsafe. The scars of what she assumed were past brawls were still there, one beneath his left third rib, another along his back, longer and more textured. None seemed to bother him, she didn’t shy away from her fingers when she traced them, or from her lips when she brushed them against them.
Eventually she felt more fully in control, the simmering heat between them pleasant as it built instead of scorching and consuming. She regained enough dexterity to tackle his buckle properly, both moving in unison to divest him of his pants, grateful that he had managed to toe off his Oxfords on his own. He did flinch the slightest bit when one of her hands ghosted the cuff of his right sock. She didn’t need to look lower to remember, didn’t need to see the misshapen bulge where his right ankle was. She retreated immediately, shushing him lovingly when he made an attempt to apologise, kissing away the worries that he might have ruined the mood somehow. When he seemed more settled she tugged on his boxers, seeking to make things playful once more, heated. They manoeuvred awkwardly but soon had their respective pairs of underwear on the floor, pink lace against black silk, and paused, both realising they were on the verge of something monumental.
“I-I realise this is the worst possible time to say this, but-” Rowan squirmed beneath her, clearly in distress as well as discomfort. Had he changed his mind? Did he think this was perhaps a bad idea? It felt literally painful to think about stopping at that point. “I haven’t exactly got protection. Never thought I’d ever have need of it here.”
Belle burst out laughing, the relief making her giddy.
“I have an IUD.”
“Oh, thank God.”
He kissed her then, calling her a clever girl in a guttural drawl that did things to her already drenched cunt that she would not have thought possible. He hissed and went silent when she took his cock, marvelling for a second at how hot and soft to the touch it was before she guided it inside her. It was strange at first, the feeling familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He was patient through her wriggling and adjusting, though she could see the tightness in the corners of his eyes, the need to thrust that had him tense as a bowstring. Finally, when she felt she was ready, she began to rock, her hips moving in an instinctual way, seeking out friction in the places she needed it most. Pain and stiffness melted into growing pleasure, deeper than when she used her own fingers, and heightened by the way she could see Rowan’s own rapture across his face, could feel it in the way he clutched her close, one hand on her back while the grasped one of her breasts, fingers pinching her nipple, determined clearly to make her come before he did, setting a punishing rhythm she was happy to compliment with little whimpers and later drawn-out moans.
In the end it was a tied race, her orgasm washing over her just as he thrusted deeply into her and emptied himself inside. He kept going, seeing her through the ebb and flow till they were both spent and satisfied, Belle having little strength left, content with falling against Rowan’s now sweaty body, loving the way he manoeuvred them so they were lying side by side on the couch.
There were few words exchanged in the afterglow, both content with cuddling beneath the Harrods of London cashmere throw that had previously been decorating the armchair on the other side of the office. Though the space still seemed as foreboding and menacing as before it was difficult to see it in such a way when Rowan was wrapped around her, her back against his front, his nose nuzzling her neck beneath her hair and his fingers caressing the skin of her stomach. It felt like a perfect moment, one neither seemed willing to interrupt. But it was late, and as comfortable as the Lazzoni sectional was, it wasn't the most ideal place for a good night’s rest.
Belle was also hungry, having eaten little during the day, too nervous by all that had been going on to work up much of an appetite.
“I feel like I could eat a horse.”
Rowan sounded unfairly sexy, voice rough from exertion and his accent deepened by their newfound intimacy. If he had spoken to her in such a way weeks sooner they would have gotten where they were much quicker.
“You know…” His voice trailed off, one of his hands pressing against her stomach, gathering her close to him. “There’s a great Korean restaurant near my place. They’re open late and have a rather wide variety of dishes. I think you’d like it.”
“That does sound amazing.”
The thought of sizzling meat and veggies over a bed of rice sounded rather more than amazing.
“They deliver too. We could order from here and pick up the food on the way to my home.”
There it was, the reason why he seemed rather cautious, the littlest bit tense behind her. This man who commanded rooms, brokered million dollar deals and dominated the business landscape of NYC, was afraid of her. Or rather, of the idea of being so open and vulnerable in front of her. She turned around, giving into the urge to tidy up his messy hair, giving herself a few seconds to decide, to try and be brave and do what she wanted for once, and not what was safe.
“It sounds lovely. But-” She saw how pretend-aloofness turned to joy and then to wariness at the sound of the word “but”- “Could we stop by my apartment first? I would like to pick up a change of clothes and a few things I might need.”
It was wonderful to see him process her words, a slow smile blooming across his face as the full meaning of what he had just said and what it implied.
“That could easily be arranged.”
A/N: so it’s supposed to be smut but I think it reads more poetically. First time writing smut tho so that’s prolly why lmao 😭 anyway, take that with a pinch of salt
Warnings: as said above^^ also angst!
Word count: 709, it’s a ficlet folks!
“This is a one time thing” is what he said two months ago, yet here they were again, two heaving bodies entangled in peach coloured sheets. The sun had set hours ago, but the blood in their veins had bubbled and boiled until they could hardly stand it, and suddenly a hurricane had gone through the rather elegant room. His shirt and tie had been tossed carelessly on the stairs, her blouse and skirt kicked somewhere under the bed. A one time thing- the memory of his voice saying that kept ringing through her mind. Husky and delicious, she had gotten drunk on it and suddenly once became twice until the hurricane had blurred their lives together. They had become this heaving mess, but a content mess they were. Too content, Gold thought.
He sighed, letting his eyes close and his head settle into the pillow. “We can’t keep doing this.” His chest was still heaving from the comedown and the memory of her against his mouth still felt so very alive. These moments were times when clocks would stop ticking and people outside didn’t matter, the energy in the room had been drawn to the bed magnetically. It was almost therapeutic to both of them. An outlet, a perfect little secret outlet, to themselves. But Mr Gold knew it couldn’t continue, she had burrowed her way into his mind and suddenly his thoughts were too fuzzy in the day. He couldn’t appreciate solitude anymore, not when his mind constructed what she might joke about, sat on the counter giggling softly to herself. Work had become a drain, it was so quiet and musty compared to the liveliness of Belle who Rumple felt he didn’t even deserve to talk to. Yet here he was, leaving his fingerprints against her thighs and hips. God it had to stop.
“What do you mean?” Belle moved to lay on her side, propping herself up on her elbow. Her hair had fallen over her chest in the process and the window was directly behind her, bathing her in the light of the moon. How did an angel spend so much time dedicating herself to a beast? She was smiling so softly at him, but there were an underlying layer of nerves behind that happy veil.
“You know what I mean.” His voice had become quiet as he averted his eyes from her gaze. Gold knew if he faced her, he’d never be able to pull himself away. He’d be sucked into the hurricane too.
Belle inhaled harshly, smacking her lips together. In a movement so quick the sheets fell from her, she sat up. How angry, how furious, how beautiful. “Oh I know exactly what you mean. You mean,” she turned to look at him “you mean that you’re too much of a coward to continue.”
“No. No I get it. Find a pretty girl, get her undressed. Who was the last girl, huh? Did you break up with her in her own bed too?”
“Get out.” The eye of the hurricane.
And suddenly time had started again. The clock against the wall ticked by agonisingly slow as he picked his scattered clothes up, feeling the librarians glare towards him all the while. The stairs which had felt so electric now were painted in shades of blue and grey. His car felt miles away when in reality it was only a few steps, and god who saw? Who saw this walk of shame? Surely the marks against his neck were becoming visible now, a dead sign of passion beneath his loose tie. Belle French, an enigma wrapped in short skirts and high heels. How had she tangled the emotions of the infamously cruel Mr Gold up so quickly? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. All he cared about, as he sat empty in the driving seat of his Cadillac, was the ice in her voice. Since the moment they met, he was sure she hadn’t a bad bone in her body. Belle was naturally a warm person, so full of fire and love. That sudden ice had sent shivers down his spine. Driving away, he heard his voice again in his head.
“A one time thing.”
A deceased thing.
Closing the Circle - chapter 12/?
Last time, Gold was stopped from taking a bite out of Lacey by thoughts of Belle, and he's really not too happy about it
By the time Cruella and Jefferson slumped onto the back seat of the car, Gold had managed to work himself up into a foul mood. He started the drive back to Storybrooke in heavy silence, glancing at the two of them in the rear view mirror. Jefferson was resting his head on Cruella’s shoulder, the two of them looking sated and happy, and he found himself switching between irritation at the time they had taken to come out to the car and envy at their contented appearance.
“You really should have stayed in the club,” said Cruella. “It was a most satisfactory evening.”
“I wasn’t in the mood,” he said.
“You never are, these days.”
Gold’s mouth flattened.
“I must have had thousands of nights out over the centuries,” he said. “It’s always the same. Humans drinking and fucking and finding new ways to get out of their brains.”
“God bless ‘em,” said Jefferson sleepily.
“Well, after a while it just gets tiresome.” He slowed to a junction, turning the wheel. “Plus the music’s terrible.”
“Nonsense!” declared Cruella. “You were determined to have a bad night before we even set off. It’s the librarian, isn’t it?”
“Of course not!” he snapped, and she sat forward, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Why don’t you tell us what you’re feeling?” she suggested. “Maybe it’ll help.”
He hesitated, then shrugged.
“I think it’s possible she put some sort of spell on me,” he said. “But I can’t work out how it was done. I can’t seem to get her out of my head. It’s like she’s - everywhere.”
There was silence from the back seat, and he found himself wanting to talk more.
“She makes me think of who I used to be, before I was - this.” He gestured to himself briefly before gripping the wheel again. “It’s like every time I try to think about something else, she’s there, getting in the bloody way! I wanted to drink from that girl at the club, and - and her voice was in my head, stopping me, like some bloody disembodied conscience! It’s like she’s haunting me!”
He could see Jefferson and Cruella share an amused smile in the rear view mirror, and it made him want to growl.
“So,” said Jefferson. “You can’t stop thinking about her, huh?”
“She’s got you reminiscing about your old life?” added Cruella. “Maybe imagining how it might have been if she’d been there with you?”
“I - I didn’t say that—”
“That’s a yes, then,” remarked Jefferson.
“No it isn’t!” he snapped. “I told you it was over! I ended it, remember? It was my choice!”
“Hmm.” Cruella sounded unconvinced. “Got scared, did you? She finally broke through that ridiculous armour you’re always wearing and you didn’t like it?”
“I don’t wear bloody armour!” he said roughly. “And this conversation is over!”
They pulled similar expressions of mock contrition, both batting their eyelids and pouting before drawing finger and thumb across their lips, and he turned his attention to the road. The silence lasted all of two minutes.
“You know what your problem is?” said Cruella, and he sighed.
“The two idiots on the back seat?”
She flapped an impatient hand at him.
“It’s a serious question!”
“I’m constantly plagued by the mindless prattle of vampires who somehow think they can interfere in my private affairs?”
She smacked him on the back of the head, making him jump.
“I know we tease you mercilessly, but it’s only when you need it,” she said. “Your problem is that you’ve been alive so long, you don’t remember what it’s like to be human.”
“It’s really more that I’ve gone out of my way to forget…” he drawled.
“Well, if you’d spent less time learning how to be an isolationist arse, you’d have remembered how it feels to be in love.”
Gold’s grip on the wheel tightened.
“Don’t be so fucking ridiculous!”
“I mean it!” she insisted. “You can’t stop thinking about her, she’s in your head constantly. You’ve been a miserable shit for days with all the—”
“—self-indulgent pining,” added Jefferson helpfully, and Cruella gestured in agreement.
“Certainly sounds like love to me,” she said.
“Sounds like obsession,” said Gold. “An easy cure would be killing her.”
She sat forward, putting her mouth close to his ear as his nose caught a whiff of perfume and cigarettes.
“But you won’t, will you?” she murmured, and he scowled.
“Because of the Covenant,” he said. “No other reason.”
“Oh pah, the Covenant!” She waved a dismissive hand. “As though you’d let that stop you. You won’t kill her, because you love her.”
“This is ridiculous…”
“Oh come on, it’s obvious!” said Jefferson. “She’s got you all nostalgic for your old life. Just marry the girl, have a few decades of domestic bliss and maybe you’ll calm down.”
“You’re both drunk,” said Gold, his voice flat.
“Well obviously, but we’re still right, darling,” said Cruella.
“My old life was certainly not something I want to reminisce about!”
“Strange that you keep thinking about it, then,” said Cruella. “I’m imagining your idea of paradise would be the lovely Miss French greeting you at the door of your seventh century fortress with half a dozen adorable children.”
“Your imagination is wildly off course,” he said dryly.
“Half a dozen children and a freshly-baked pie, then,” put in Jefferson.
“Would you two shut up?”
“Really, it’s not so surprising that you love her,” said Cruella. “I must have fallen in love with dozens of humans over the years, albeit briefly. There’s no shame in it.”
“We need their blood to survive,” added Jefferson. “There must be something they have that we don’t.”
“Could it be tolerance of bizarre speculation?” asked Gold dryly.
“Oh, would you stop!” said Cruella sharply. “You’re not fooling anyone. Not us and certainly not Miss French. We heard the two of you arguing. She has the measure of you, Gold. You’ve found someone who knows exactly who you are and, may all the gods help her, still seems to like you.”
“She could be your happy ending,” offered Jefferson.
Gold brought the car to a stop with a squeal of brakes, Jefferson almost going through the windshield before thumping back in the seat next to Cruella. Gold turned in his seat to face them.
“Except she’s not, is she?” he said, through his teeth. “You don’t get it! There are no happy endings here, no - no fucking fairy tale where she kisses me and breaks my curse! She’s human, she’s mortal, and I’m - I’m fourteen hundred years old and I’ve lived that long because I drink the blood of her kind! In what twisted universe could there ever be a happy ending in all of that?”
“People can sometimes—” began Cruella.
“I’m not people!” he snapped. “None of us are! We’re demons, remember?”
“Demons who were once fully human,” she corrected. “And she doesn’t seem to mind. She knows who you are…”
“No, she fucking doesn’t!” he snarled. “She thinks she does. She knows I’m a killer, I’ll give you that, but she thinks her mind has already combed the depths of what I can do. She has no idea what I’m capable of.”
He fixed the two of them with a glare, eyes flicking from one to the other.
“I ended it,” he said. “For her benefit as well as mine. It’s over. So fucking shut up about it, or I’ll leave you by the side of the bloody road!”
Cruella and Jefferson eyed one another with identical knowing expressions, but then shrugged, as though it made no difference to them. He nodded curtly, turning back to face the road and starting the car again.
It’s over. It’s for the best. For her as well as me. I’ll forget her eventually.
For her part, Belle had managed to put Gold out of her head almost completely, at least for that night. Her broken heart had been soothed by many large gin and tonics, exuberant dancing, and then some off-key singing as she and Ruby made their way home. Ruby had dropped her at the door to her apartment, with a bone-crushing hug and a kiss on her cheek, and Belle had flopped into bed, her head spinning.
The next morning she felt dreadful, and it took throwing up, followed by several cups of coffee and heartfelt promises to herself never to get that drunk again, before she felt something approaching human. The hangover made her feel worse than ever about her now non-existent love life, and so she took a shower and threw herself into the day, determined to keep busy. She had a library to open, after all.
She had been nursing some mild panic about the opening. Despite organising a children’s event in partnership with the local school, and receiving a lot of interest about the adults’ event the same evening, there was still a snide voice at the back of her mind telling her no one would come. In the end she needn’t have worried. The children’s party was probably the most noise and excitement the library had seen in years, and Belle was kept busy signing the kids up for library cards and giving book recommendations. Mrs Nolan, one of the teachers, helped to keep the children engaged as she talked them through the craft exercises they were doing. She was a pretty young woman with short, dark hair, clearly very fond of the children, and she and Belle had already had discussions about further collaborations.
Mrs Nolan also came to the adults’ event that evening, and Belle chatted to her about the book clubs she was setting up. Mulan and Aurora had turned up to support her, but there was no sign of Ruby, which was unsurprising. The moon had risen some time ago. Emma was absent too, which was a little more surprising, but Aurora pointed out that she and Lily had arranged to meet in the Rabbit Hole.
“We thought we’d go down there too,” said Mulan, as the clock headed towards nine p.m. “I said I’d cover the last few hours, help out with the Friday night rush. Maybe we can get talking to some more of the locals, now they’re starting to relax around us.”
“Tell Emma and Lily I said hi,” said Belle. “I’ll be finishing up soon, but I’ll need to clean the place up. It’s been busier than I thought it would.”
“People are excited about having a library again,” said Aurora. “It’s great that you’ve had so much interest. The book club sign-up sheets look pretty full.”
“Yeah, if everyone turns up it should be a lot of fun,” said Belle.
“Come to the bar when you’re done,” suggested Mulan, and Belle pulled a face, feeling nauseous at the thought of it.
“I’ll pass,” she said. “I’d prefer a daytime celebration. Definitely no booze.”
“Maybe we could grab a bite to eat tomorrow,” said Aurora. “Lunch at Granny’s, what do you say?”
“It’s a date,” said Belle. “I’ll close up at one and meet you there.”
She hugged them both, and Aurora kissed her on the cheek before pulling back.
“Awesome job, Belle,” said Mulan. “Storybrooke has a library!”
Belle beamed, hugging them again, and waved them off as they headed for the doors.
“Excuse me?” Mrs Nolan’s voice made her turn. “What do you have in the romance section that’s a little - racy?”
She blushed as she said it, and Belle smiled, gesturing towards the stacks.
“I think I have just the thing.”
Outside the library, Gold watched from the shadows, tiny flakes of snow spiralling down to land on his hair and shoulders. The library was ablaze with light, molten gold spilling out through the windows. He could see the townsfolk milling around inside, clutching glasses of wine and finger sandwiches, chatting as they perused the displays of books that had been set up. Belle was hurrying about, talking to the guests, smiling and laughing. Every now and then she would dart off, returning soon after with a book in her hands, and he smiled slightly with each person she shepherded towards the circulation desk. She’ll have them all signed up to book clubs before the night’s out.
His eyes followed Belle around, watching the way the light gleamed on the curls of her hair, remembering how it had felt slipping through his fingers, how it had looked spread out on the pillows of his bed. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes sparkling and filled with life. So beautiful.
The library doors opened, and he pulled back a little further into the shadows. Mulan and Aurora emerged, arms around each other, and headed off down the street. They hadn’t seen him, and he turned back to the window, watching Belle select a book and present it to Mrs Nolan. The two women were chatting, and Mrs Nolan was giggling and blushing as Belle led her to the circulation desk to check out what was presumably an erotic novel. His smile widened.
It was approaching nine, and the library open evening was drawing to a close. Guests started to filter out in ones and twos, and Gold watched them leave. For a moment he was tempted to wait a little longer, until the library was empty and he could find her alone, but then he shook his head and turned away, heading down the street to where his car was parked. No. No happy endings.
Belle rolled her shoulders with a sigh as she worked the broom, trying to sweep up the last of the crumbs and discarded paper napkins. What remained of the finger food had been packed into plastic tubs, the wine glasses borrowed from Granny’s taken upstairs to be washed and returned. She had made herself a cup of tea, having been too busy to drink wine with the guests, and it was now going cold on the desk, but she felt a sense of achievement. The library opening had been a success.
She swept the litter into a pile and went to get the dustpan from behind the circulation desk. It had gotten wedged under the chair, and she squatted down to retrieve it. The squeak of the library doors opening made her sigh.
“I’m afraid we’re closed,” she called. “We open at nine tomorrow morning!”
There was silence, and she shrugged, tugging the dustpan free and standing up.
The sight of Zelena standing on the other side of the desk made her start in surprise and drop the dustpan. It hit her cup of tea, knocking it from the desk to shatter on the floor. Belle jumped back with a yelp as tea splashed her legs. Good thing it wasn’t hot.
“Sorry if I scared you,” said Zelena, smiling that manic smile of hers. “I see the opening night was a success. A pity you’re all alone cleaning up.”
There was something in her voice that made Belle’s heart thump, fingers of anxiety caressing her scalp and tracing icy patterns on her skin. She opened her mouth to lie, to announce that her friends were just upstairs, and Zelena’s smile widened as she raised a hand.
“Goodnight,” she whispered, and Belle’s world went black.
Waking up was a painful process, her head aching and her body cold and bruised. She reached out groggily, fingers sliding over cold, rough stone, and blinked rapidly before biting back a groan. The room swam into focus, and she felt her brow crinkle in confusion. Definitely not the library.
Pushing up on one hand, she looked around slowly. She was in a small stone room with a tiny window just below the ceiling that she thought she might just about be able to reach. Sunlight was coming through, a rectangular patch of pale gold on the floor just in front of the bars.
Belle shook her head, sitting up properly. Bars? Am I in jail?
A flash of red caught in the corner of her vision, and she turned, eyes widening as she saw a body slumped on the floor, long blonde hair spilling over the collar of a red leather jacket.
Belle scrambled to her side, grasping her shoulder and shaking it, and Emma mumbled something, her eyes fluttering.
“Ugh, my head!” she groaned, rubbing a hand over the top of her skull.
“Emma? Oh, thank God you’re okay!”
Belle sat back on her heels as Emma pushed herself up onto the palms of her hands, a bemused expression on her face.
“Belle? That you? What the hell happened?”
“Zelena,” said Belle grimly. “That’s the last thing I remember. She was in the library, and - and then everything went dark.”
“Shit!” Emma winced, shifting a little before slumping back down onto her elbows.
“Yeah, I think she knocked me out,” said Belle. “The next thing I remember was waking up here with you. Can you sit up?”
“I think so.”
Emma pushed up again, and Belle got an arm around her, pulling her up into a sitting position and leaning her back against the wall. Emma gave her a grateful smile.
“What happened to you?” asked Belle, and she pulled a face.
“No clue. I was waiting for Lily in that bar, and—” She cut off, brows lowering. “Zelena was there. Said Lily was running late because of a thing with her Mom, and had sent her to sit with me until she got there. I - I guess she put something in my drink, maybe?”
“Something like that,” said Belle grimly. “The question is, where are we? And what does she want from us?”
“We’re in a fucking cell,” said Emma bluntly. “Who has a cell in their house? You know, unless you’re into weird sex dungeons, or whatever.”
Belle moved closer to the bars, gripping them and giving them a shake. The barred door rattled slightly, but held firm. She could see through the bars to another cell opposite. This one had no window, and there was a pile of blankets on the floor. To the left, the narrow corridor between the cells opened out into an empty room with a set of steps leading up to a door.
“It must be the Mayor’s mansion,” said Belle, turning back to face Emma. “I think we’re in the cellars. Below ground, for sure. The window up there looks to be at ground level.”
“Must be why I’m freezing my ass off.”
“The door seems pretty solid,” added Belle. “The window looks too small to get through, but we could give it a try.”
A groan from the darkness made them both jump, and Emma scrabbled at the wall as she got to her feet, knees shaking a little. There was a scraping, shuffling noise from outside the cell, and Belle tried to calm her racing heart.
“Who’s there?” Emma asked sharply.
Another groan, and Belle stepped forward, going to the bars and looking out. The pile of blankets she had seen earlier had moved, and the face of a young man was peering back at her. He was thin and pale, his eyes filled with a somewhat haunted expression as he clutched the blankets around himself.
“Hey,” said Belle gently. “Hey, are you okay?”
“I think so. I - I’m not hurt. Well, my head hurts, but other than that I’m alright.”
His voice was soft, his accent English, his hand shaking a little as it ran through short brown hair. His arm was bare, with fine, dark hair on the forearm, and Belle frowned curiously.
“Did they take your clothes?” she asked, and the man dropped his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said uncomfortably. “She hasn’t given me anything else to wear. Sorry.”
“No, don’t apologise, you must be freezing.” She could feel her anger growing with every minute. “I’m Belle. This is Emma. What’s your name?”
“Philip,” he said, and grimaced as he sat up. “God, what did she give me?”
“How long have you been down here?” asked Emma.
He pulled a face before glancing around the cell. Belle noticed that the walls were covered in scratches, long scrapes through cracked and peeling paint in rows of four, although there seemed to be little order to them. To mark the time? How long has this poor man been a prisoner?
“A week, I think,” he said, surprising her. “I - I’m not certain. I think she drugs me. I don’t really remember the nights, and the days are blurring into one.”
“Do you remember how you got here?” asked Emma, and he ran a shaking hand through his hair.
“I thought she was there from the Coven,” he said. “They were supposed to meet me, to welcome me to the town.”
“The Coven?” asked Emma, in disbelief.
“Tell us what happened,” asked Belle quickly.
“She said she’d drive me to meet the rest of them, and she offered me a drink. I - I was thirsty… And stupid, apparently.”
“What did she look like?” asked Belle.
“Reddish hair? Young? I - I think she had some sort of hat on.”
“Zelena again,” muttered Emma. “God, am I gonna kick that bitch’s ass when I get my hands on her!”
“Next thing I remember was waking up here,” he added.
“And why were you coming to Storybrooke?” asked Belle. Philip dropped his eyes.
“I’d heard about it,” he said quietly. “How it was - different. Peaceful.”
“The advert,” she whispered, and gripped the bars. “You saw one of their advertisements, didn’t you? About Storybrooke being a haven for supernatural creatures?”
Philip’s eyes had widened, his mouth opening.
“You know about those too?” he asked urgently. “Who are you? Or - or what are you? I’m sorry if that’s a rude question, but—”
“Oh, I’m human,” she said hastily. “But yes, I saw the advertisement. My friends and I poured some unveiling potion on it.”
“You’re a witch?”
“Not really,” she said. “I’m a researcher, studying magic and supernatural creatures. I can use magic, but I’m not with the Coven. I mean you no harm, I promise! What about you?”
“What the hell are you two talking about?” asked Emma flatly, and Belle glanced over her shoulder.
“This town is a haven for the supernatural, and for magic users,” she said. “The Coven that Philip mentioned is the Mayor and her family. Including Lily, I suppose.”
Emma folded her arms, brows lowering.
“You can’t be serious!”
“Look, you heard what she said,” said Belle impatiently. “All her life, weird things have happened to her, stuff that was out of her control. It sounds like she’s been having issues with using magic. Maybe blocking herself accidently, and then having it burst out of her when she doesn’t want it to. It happens sometimes, especially to youngsters.”
“Oh, come on, she was talking about her mental health issues and her crappy home life!” said Emma, throwing up her arms.
“Are you telling me you haven’t seen anything strange when you’ve been with her?” asked Belle, and Emma hesitated.
“I - well - look, maybe there was one time, but I was really tired and probably hallucinating!” she snapped. “There’s no such thing as magic and witches, and - and—”
“Werewolves,” said Philip, and Emma cut off, opening and closing her mouth.
“You’re a werewolf?” said Belle gently, and he nodded, ducking his head as though he were ashamed.
“The Coven said they could help, that there were others like me here,” he said quietly. “I thought if I could make it here, I could have something like a normal life.”
“I don’t believe this…” muttered Emma.
“There are other werewolves here,” said Belle. “And you can have a normal life, I promise! But first we need to get out of here.”
“You said you can use magic,” he said. “Can you get us out of here? Blast out through the window, or - or teleport or something?”
“No wand, no way to brew a potion, I’m nowhere near proficient enough to conjure anything useful…” Belle threw up her hands in frustration. “Magic can’t help us.”
“Well, you’re certainly right about that.”
Zelena’s voice made them start, and Belle turned towards the sound, seeing her leaning in the doorway at the top of the stairs and watching them with a smirk on her face, keys dangling from one finger.
“Let us out, you sick bitch!” shouted Emma. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, locking us up like this?”
“Kidnapping is a serious crime,” added Belle, relieved that her voice was steady. “You’d better let us out of here if you don’t want to spend years of your life behind bars.”
Zelena tutted, shaking her head.
“Do you honestly think that Storybrooke law enforcement works like that?” she asked. “We look after our own in this town. You’re outsiders, all of you. Fair game.”
“I live here,” snapped Belle. “And something tells me no one is fair game in this town. There are rules, right? Rules that say you can’t hurt the supernatural creatures that live here, and they can’t hurt you?”
Zelena looked as though she’d bitten something sour, her mouth twisting.
“You really are the most irritating, nosy little shrew I’ve ever met,” she said. “You’re right, there are rules. But rules, as my dear mother always tells me, can always be side-stepped by those clever enough to find a way.”
Belle thought quickly, rifling through the information she had gleaned about the town.
“Would Mr Gold agree with you?” she asked, and Zelena raised her chin.
“Mr Gold isn’t here,” she said. “And he sets too much store by tradition. The point of rules is to push the boundaries. It’s all about the loopholes, really.”
“So what loophole are you relying on?” asked Emma. “You think you’ll get a pass for killing us because we’re new to town?”
“Oh, I’m not going to kill you, dear,” she said, pressing a hand to her heart with an expression of mock hurt. “No no, your role is to help dear Lily get control of her powers. Given that you mean so much to her, seeing you in mortal danger will help her to act, don’t you see? I’ve not the slightest intention of harming one golden hair on your head!”
“And what about me?” asked Belle. Zelena’s smile grew crafty.
“Ah,” she said. “Well. In order to give Lily the right incentive, we need to have a demonstration. An example to be set. A test of what our young friend there is capable of when the moon is full.”
She gestured towards Philip, who shrank back from the bars. Belle swallowed hard.
“You’re going to let him attack me?”
Zelena’s smile widened.
“Should be a persuasive demonstration, don’t you think?”
“I won’t do it!” said Philip, his voice shaking. “You can’t make me, I’ll - I’ll fight it!”
“Really?” she asked, pouting a little. “How has that worked out for you so far, dear? Isn’t that why you came to Storybrooke? To find a little peace for your poor tortured soul amongst your own kind? If you haven’t managed to keep the wolf at bay until now, what makes you think you’ll succeed now?”
“I won’t harm an innocent!”
“Innocent?” Zelena snorted with laughter. “In what realm is she innocent? She came to this town to harm us, all dark creatures and magic users! She wants to research your kind! Let her live and she’ll be drugging you and doing experiments on you before the week’s out!”
Philip glanced at Belle with a stricken expression, and she shook her head vehemently.
“No, she’s lying!” she said. “I don’t mean you any harm, I promise! I’m just interested, that’s all.”
“See, she admits it!” declared Zelena. “It’s kill or be killed!”
Philip had hunched his shoulders, drawing in on himself and shuffling back from the bars as he tugged the blanket around his body. Zelena’s mouth twisted in a satisfied smirk.
“I’ll be back before the moon rises,” she said pleasantly, and turned on her heel, skirts swishing as she closed the door behind her. The sound of a key in the lock was loud.
Belle shared a desperate glance with Emma.
“What are we gonna do?” asked Emma. “That bitch was serious, she wants us dead!”
“Just me, I think,” said Belle grimly. “You get to live.”
“Right, she just wants you dead,” said Emma, in a flat tone. “Like that’s better, somehow.”
“She wants me to kill you.”
Philip’s voice was a monotone. He had raised his head a little, his face haggard.
“She - she wants this Lily person to kill me, too,” he added. “Kill or be killed, that’s what she said. I’m pretty sure that means I won’t be leaving this place alive, either way.”
“She wants you to do her dirty work, that’s what,” said Emma. “Maybe you can get to her first.”
“No no, please, you have to help me!” he pleaded, reaching out through the bars. “I don’t want to hurt you! I don’t want to hurt anyone! Not even her! I - I wanted to leave all that behind when I came here!”
“It won’t come to that,” said Belle firmly, wishing she felt more confident than she sounded. “I was supposed to meet my friends at Granny’s. They’ll be worried when I don’t show up. They’ll find us, and get us out. All of us.”
“How will they know where to find us?” asked Emma.
“Aurora can do a locator spell,” said Belle. “She’ll be able to track us down, and Mulan will kick Zelena all around this cell. Don’t worry. We’re getting out of here.”
Just spent a good hour going through every conceivable tag I could think of on Ao3 to try to find a smutty Rumbelle fic in which Rumple has a hemipenes (lizard anatomy: basically two cocks) and came up unfortunately empty handed.
If anyone knows of any fics that feature this and where I might find them, ao3, Tumblr or otherwise, I and a few others from the Rumbelle Discord Chat would be greatly appreciative!
ICYMI, voting for Round Two has been extended to 6:00 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, May 24th. I've only received a few votes so far, so everyone please find time to read the fics and submit your votes before the deadline! Here are the fics for Round Two:
At the beginning by ThinMint
Rain, Ruin, Roses by The_Wonderous_Trianne
Turn Off the Light by Seiren
The Book Crises by Snax
More than text mates? by sleeve garters
we were together. (I forget the rest.) by Aurifer
Our 2022 T.E.A. Winners!
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the Rumbelle fandom on tumblr over the past year. In the past ten years! Holy crap, ten years.
Thank you to all of the fanwork creators, every damn one of you. Thank you to the people who read and enjoy art, especially those who leave encouraging comments for creators.
All right, that said, how would y’all like to see this year’s winners?
2022 T.E.A. Winners
A Moment’s Peace and Quiet, by @shadowedoracle
BEST CHILD FIC
The Hunt for the Green Unicorn, by @woodelf68
Presents, by @kelyon
Silver Tongue, by @thestraggletag
Trinity, by @deliriumsdelight7
BEST FIRST TIME
A Change of Seasons, by @deliriumsdelight7
Begging on His Bended Knees, by @kelyon
Jupiter’s Water, by @deliriumsdelight7
HURTS SO GOOD
Evening, by @peacehopeandrats
Tattercloak, by @deliriumsdelight7
BEST FIRST MEETING
Her Angel, by @kelyon
Covet the Dark Within, by @comradegiddybiscuit
BEST COMEDY FIC
Mr. September, by @thatravenclawbitch
BEST MOVIE AU
Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, by @deliriumsdelight7
BEST TV SHOW AU
Tattercloak, by @deliriumsdelight7
BEST AU INSPIRED BY OTHER MEDIA
Jupiter’s Water, by @deliriumsdelight7
BEST HISTORICAL AU
Pompeii: Burn for You, by @reolf
Rumbelle Me a Story, by @peacehopeandrats
BEST NOVEL LENGTH FIC
Disparate Pathways, by @eirian-houpe
Disparate Pathways, by @eirian-houpe
BEST DARK CASTLE
Presents, by @kelyon
BEST GOLDEN LACE
Keeping Up Appearances, by @comradegiddybiscuit
BEST RUMBELLE POLY SHIP
Trinity, by @deliriumsdelight7
One of the Others, by @mareyshelley
Darkness Falls on Hyperion Heights, by @eirian-houpe
BEST CREATURE AU
Goldzilla AU, by @phoenixfeatherquill
BEST DARK ONE LORE FIC
Covet the Dark Within, by @comradegiddybiscuit
Brought to You by the Color Blue, by @eirian-houpe
BEST PANDEMIC/QUARANTINE FIC
Virtual Session, by @thestraggletag
Mr. September, by @thatravenclawbitch
Her Angel, by @kelyon
Begging on His Bended Knees, by @kelyon
A Rose in Winter, by @emospritelet
BEST FAN ART
Neverland Kiss, by @milaeryn
BEST FLUFF ART
Just One More Kiss, by @milaeryn
BEST NEW ARTIST
BEST ANYELLE FIC
Finding a Cure, by @deliriumsdelight7
Awarded to a person who has done something spectacular in the fandom. Either by making people feel welcome, organizing events, or simply embodying the Rumbelle fandom as a whole.
Congratulations to @thatravenclawbitch for being such a beloved contributor to the fandom! <3
Welcome, new Rumbellers, to our delightfully and spectacularly filthy little corner of the fandom!!
New TEAs blog is LIVE!
Greetings to all you lovely Rumbellers! As many of you know, it was announced that this year’s TEAs event would be the last. But due to popular demand, a few of us have decided to band together to revive the event. As long as there are creators making content, and fans who want to appreciate those creators, we’d like to keep this event going!
With that said, since this is a new blog, run under new management, we’d like to use this as an opportunity to revamp the event somewhat. While we absolutely want to keep the spirit of the past events, we believe that there are opportunities to streamline certain aspects of the whole to make it a smoother process for creators, voters, and mods alike.
So what does this mean for you? Well, as the previous blog stated, this is an event run by fans, for fans. Since this event is for all of you, we’d like to give you the opportunity to let your voices be heard in certain aspects of how the event will be run in the future. To that end, I think we need to begin as we mean to go on: by getting your input on the name of this blog and the event as a whole moving forward. Would you like to keep the original name of The Espenson Awards? Or do you think a new start needs a new name? You can send us any suggestions for a new name either by replying to this post, or by sending us an Ask. Once we’ve heard back from you, we’ll gather all name suggestions and put it to a vote. Whichever name gets the most votes will be our new name going forward!
While I’ve got you all here, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the previous mods for running this event in the past. This is a beloved event of a wonderful fandom, and gives many of us something fun to look forward to all year round. Without all of you, this event would not have been possible.
We hope you’ll have patience with us while we work out the kinks of this event. We look forward to carrying the torch and keeping this tradition alive!
One Thing Forever True - Chapter 11
Weeks passed, and the three of them - Belle, Baelfire, and Rumpelstiltskin - fell into an odd sort of routine. Belle woke, as she always did, with the sun. She would perform her morning ablutions, dressing in one of the simple linen gowns that had been provided for her in her bedroom in the East Wing. Rumpelstiltskin’s ban on entering the West Wing meant that she had no access to her old bedroom.
Once she was washed and dressed, she would go down to the kitchen and ask for a modest breakfast. Rumpelstiltskin had enchanted various inanimate object to respond wordlessly to her commands. Candelabras would light up when she entered a room, the tea carriage would appear with a lovely purple and white tea set whenever she fancied a cup, and a small wooden clock would race to her side any time she wondered aloud what time it was. In the kitchen, all she had to do was politely ask for a bowl of porridge. Within moments, a tray would be waiting for her with porridge, milk, honey, fresh berries, and a tall glass of freshly-squeezed fruit juice. She would have her breakfast right there in the kitchen. The dining hall felt echoingly empty by herself; at least in the kitchen, she could watch the enchanted dishes wash themselves and pretend that she had company.
Read on AO3
Word Count: ~1,800
Summary: A donation to the library gives Belle insight into the mysterious Mr. Gold.
A/N: This is a @rumbellesecretsanta gift fic for @lotus0kid. Their prompt was: If found, please return to... Lotus, I'm sorry this is late. Real life stuff got in the way. I hope this answers your prompt.
* * *
The box was directly in front of the library doors, where she couldn’t possibly miss it. “For donation” was written in large letters across the top. Christmas Eve seemed like a strange time to donate books to the library, Belle thought. The building wasn’t even open today; she was only here for a moment, to pick up a gift that she’d been hiding in her desk for weeks.
She leaned over the box so she could unlock the library doors, then managed to push it inside. It was a large box, and quite heavy. Flipping on a light, she opened the box to peruse the contents.
She could tell at first glance that many of the books were for children. Several well-known board books caught her eye, worn and frayed from a toddler’s rough treatment. There were beginning readers, chapter books of the sort read by middle school children, and YA novels. With the exception of the well-gnawed baby books, they all seemed to be in excellent condition.
She picked up a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit and opened it. On the inside cover was a sticker. If found, please return to Baeden Gold, it read. The name had been filled in with careful childish print.
The only Gold she knew of in town was Mr. Gold, the forbidding man who owned and ran the pawn shop across the street. He also owned most of the property in town, but those two facts made up nearly the sum total of what she knew about him. He seemed to take pride in keeping to himself; the only time he interacted with other humans was when he was collecting rent or conducting business in his shop.
Curiosity piqued, Belle flipped through the book in her hands, and then immediately went back to the front, where handwriting had caught her eye. On the blank page preceding the copyright information, there was a note.
You are the only reason that I ever became Real.
Love always, your Papa.
Belle read the inscription a second time, her eyes filling up with tears. Mr. Gold had a son? One that he loved very much, if this note was anything to go by. Yet she’d never heard anyone speak of the man having a son, or any family at all.
She picked up another book at random, and flipped through it. A photograph fell out, and it confirmed her guess. It showed Mr. Gold, younger than she’d ever seen him, holding a small boy by the hand. Written on the back in the same handwriting she’d seen in the book, it said, Papa and Bae, age four.
She tucked the picture back in, and turned to the front of the book. Another label with the name Baeden Gold, and on the next page, another note.
I know you long for more adventure than Storybrooke can give you. Till you grow up and go out into the world seeking your own adventures, perhaps you can live vicariously through stories like this.
She turned the book over to see the title. Treasure Island. Plenty of adventure to be had in that one. Had it been enough to satisfy a young Baeden, as his father hoped?
She chose several more books at random, finding the same name labels and handwritten notes in each of them. If there was one thing Belle French knew about, it was books. And she could see Bae’s entire life documented in this box. These books had been chosen with care, starting when the baby was too young to focus on the pages, continuing through childhood, and ending – as far as Belle could ascertain – when the boy became a young adult. Till he left home, perhaps? Why had he never come back? She was sure she would have been aware if Mr. Gold had a son who visited.
She looked out the window to the pawn shop across the street, where the lights were still on. Everyone knew that Mr. Gold stayed open late on Christmas Eve, and even opened on Christmas Day, for those last minute shoppers each year. That wasn’t the only reason, she realized now, standing there with the box of books at her feet. Mr. Gold stayed open all the time because he had no one to go home to. He’d clearly had a family, once, but not in her lifetime.
Why would he give away the books of a son that he clearly loved?
Without stopping to think about it, she snatched the first book she’d looked at from the box again, and crossed the street.
The bell above the door jingled as she entered the shop. Inside, the warmth welcomed her. She’d forgotten to put her coat back on when she left the library.
Belle stopped in the middle of the room and looked around. She hadn’t been here for years, not since she’d accompanied her father on the day that he asked for a loan from Mr. Gold. The visit had been fraught with tension, and soon after that, her father warned her to always stay away from Mr. Gold. As a good and dutiful daughter, she’d done so… until this moment.
The tap of a cane warned of the man’s arrival, before the man himself came through the curtain that separated the showroom from the back of the shop. His eyebrows raised as he regarded her with interest.
“Miss French. You’re not one of my Christmas Eve regulars.” He planted himself behind the counter.
“You have regulars for that?” Belle asked, distracted from her mission by the thought of people who consistently waited till Christmas Eve to buy gifts.
“Indeed I do, but I would not have expected it of you.”
“And what makes you think you know me?” she asked, curious. “We’ve never even had a conversation before now.”
“I make it my business to know about everyone in this town, Miss French. Surely a librarian would agree with the saying that knowledge is power.”
His dark eyes bored into hers, and she was suddenly reminded that she was dealing with the most powerful man in town. Had she made a mistake, coming here?
“I’m not here to shop,” Belle said, speaking before she could lose her nerve. “I came to ask you a question.”
He regarded her for a moment before giving an elegant wave of his hand.
“By all means, proceed. I confess to some curiosity about what question could be so urgent that you’d accost me in my shop on Christmas Eve.”
Belle walked up to the counter and placed The Velveteen Rabbit on its glass top.
“Why are you trying to give away all your son’s books?”
At sight of the book, Mr. Gold went eerily still, his face guarded. When he spoke, his voice was softer than before, yet there was a subtle threat in his tone. A warning.
“My reasons are not your concern, Miss French. I donated books to the library. Shelve them for others to borrow, or throw them in the rubbish bin, but don’t bring them back here.”
He turned and moved away, aiming for the curtain again. Belle sensed that if he walked through that curtain, that she’d have missed her chance forever.
“Why are you trying to forget the only person who’s ever loved you?”
He spun around, snarling, and Belle took a step back from his obvious wrath.
“What would you know about who loved me?”
Gathering her courage, Belle tapped the book cover. “The only reason you became real,” she reminded him.
He closed his eyes, and looked… embarrassed?
“I forgot that I wrote in that,” he murmured.
“You wrote in all of them,” Belle said. “At least, the several that I looked at.”
He moved closer again, but slowly, like his burst of anger had tired him.
“Every year for his birthday, and again at Christmas,” he said, in a near-whisper. “No matter what other gifts he received, I would always give him a new book. I would write a note in it. Even before he could read, I wrote those notes.”
He laid a hand on the book, gingerly, as if it might burn him. Belle waited, but no further information was forthcoming.
“That sounds like a wonderful tradition,” she said finally. “I’m sure Bae appreciated it.”
“I thought he did… till I lost him.” His hand withdrew, clenched into a fist.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“He’s not dead. I said he was lost to me.” He was still looking at his hand on the book, but his eyes were unfocused. Was he remembering all the times he’d read this book to his son?
What had she been thinking, barging into his shop and bringing up painful memories?
He removed his hand suddenly, stepping back and resuming his formal manner like a well-fitted suit.
“Miss French, I’ve changed my mind about donating the books to the library.”
She nodded. “I understand. I’ll see that the entire box is returned to you after the holiday, when I’ll have help carrying it.”
“No, I don’t think you do understand. I don’t want the books back. I want them destroyed. You must have a system in place for that.”
“Destroy them?” she asked in horror. The very notion of destroying perfectly good books was a sacrilege to her.
“I’ll pay you for your services,” he offered.
“I don’t… no. I don’t want your money,” she stumbled over the words.
“I need a guarantee that no one will ever see these books, Miss French. Or what they contain. Destroying them will ensure that.”
“What they–” And suddenly, she understood. The words she’d meant to say, died on her tongue. She took a breath and nodded, trying for her professional librarian voice. “I understand, Mr. Gold. You have my word that no one else will ever see these books.”
“Thank you, Miss French.” He was already turning away. “If you wouldn’t mind seeing yourself out, I have work to do.”
He was gone through the curtain before Belle had moved from her spot. She picked up the book and returned to the library, where she contemplated the box by the door.
With effort, she managed to push it across the floor into her office. Using a large marker, she crossed through the existing words. Instead she wrote Property of Belle French, and taped the box firmly shut.
At the first opportunity, Belle planned to move this box to her own storage unit for safekeeping. Mr. Gold could change his mind one day, and if he did, the books would be waiting for him. In the meantime, the citizens of Storybrooke never needed to know that their town Scrooge had anything other than a lump of coal where his heart should be.
He’d been right. Knowledge was power. Belle would use her power to protect.
What are your top-10 favorite rumbelle fanfics?
OMG, this is the most wonderful question that’s definitely gonna emotionally rip me to shreds, thank you!
Okay, I’m consuming fics on a daily basis, and it is incredibly hard to pick favourites. So here I’m going to list the ones that I’ve read more, than once (or twice, or thrice, tbh). Mind you, these are only the fics that are completed. I rarely read WIPs, but the ones that I’m following now I can’t judge as I have no idea how (and even if) they’re going to turn out.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
1. Penance by @emospritelet
2. Dark Spring by @nerdrumple
3. Doubts by Megara Bee
4. Witness Protection by Eilinelithil ( @eirian-houpe )
5. Little White Lie by ThatRavenclawBitch ( @abovethemists )
6. Neverland by Emospritelet
7. Always One More Time by Bad Faery
8. Nurturing by @thestraggletag
9. Away to Me by Crysania
10. What It Creates by Fyre
(those are not placed in an order of how much I love them, bc I mostly love them all equally)
P.S. These are only Rumbelle fics, I have another list for Anyelle
The Changeling, Chapter 1
Summary: Belle and Lacey had always been as different as two twins could possibly be, but always ready to do whatever it took for each other. Which includes Belle putting her life in pause to replace Lacey in hers as she checked herself into rehab to kick a drinking habit that could potentially end her modelling career. All she had to do is attend some fittings, do a couple of photoshoots, avoid if possible the slimey and two-timing Killian Jones and steer clear of Lacey's boss, Mr Gold, and his suspicious nature.
How difficult could it possibly be?
A/N: This is my Rumbelled version of A Change of Place. Fic will have a total of around 6 (or perhaps 7) chapters.
“Lacey, honey! So good to have you back! How was the West Coast?”
Belle blinked, trying not to jump out of her skin when a tall woman dressed in a red maxi dress ran over to her and embraced her. ‘Be Lacey’, she told herself over and over, like she had done often in the past, when they had played at being each other to fool people.
“I missed you too Ruby.”
It was easy to recognise her from Lacey’s descriptions, even without the bright red streak in her hair. Like her sister had told her she was loud and charming, personality exuding out of her. She could easily picture her and Lacey being best friends, going to parties and turning heads everywhere. She was glad she was on their side and knew of the whole damned mess.
“We have so much to catch on, hon. Let’s go somewhere more private, ok?”
She barely got time to admire the well-preserved Gothic revival details of the main foyer of the House of Gold, a building reminiscent of the Barbizon. Its sheer size and appearance spoke of power and wealth, but also of style and elegance. She wished she had the time to take it all in, wished she was simply visiting her sister at her place of work instead of trying to pass herself off as her. She told herself not to touch her hair, held up by bobby pins, a lot of hair lacquer, and a prayer, and followed her sister’s friend up an elevator.
She was soon whisked away to one of the middle floors, where she could tell most of the clothes were produced. It was all a mess of fabrics, feathers, rhinestones and forms, with people hovering over sewing machines and aligning sequins in different patterns. Ruby walked straight to a corner partially covered by folding screens. Behind was a small couch and a coffee table. It was clearly a well-used hidden little nook, one Lacey had mentioned was in constant use whenever the time came to start fitting the dresses to the models, before they were even finished. Given that the fashion house was meant to be months away from the nearest showing it looked like things were rather advanced, to Belle’s admittedly untrained eye. From what she knew from facetiming Lacey this was supposed to be a rather quiet time, specially for the models. It was the main reason why Lacey had chosen then to go visit her in California and why she had agreed to the switch, really, especially since it was supposed to be for months.
“You’ll hardly have to do any work, I promise! You’ll get to hole up at my fabulous apartment to do your thesis and enjoy a bit of life in the Big Apple! It’ll mostly be like a vacation.”
To Ruby’s credit, she waited till they were sitting down to lose it on her.
“Is Lacey mad? What the hell was she thinking? What the hell were you thinking? From what Lacey told me about you you were supposed to be the responsible twin! The level-headed one! You should’ve said no!”
Belle had thought that, over and over, on her plane ride from California to New York. It was a stupid idea and would never work. But Lacey was her little sister. Younger by minutes but still. Her responsibility, now that both their parents were dead. She owed her this. This chance to turn things around.
“You wanted me to tell Lacey that I wouldn’t help her get into rehab? Help her quit drinking? When I’ve been wanting for years for her to even admit she has a problem?”
She had told herself this too, when Lacey had shown up out of nowhere in the small apartment in Rosindale, near Berkeley. California reminded her a bit of Australia, which was nice, but the real reason why she had chosen to move there after graduating from Columbia was to pursue her PhD in Library Science and train, at the same time, at the North West Document Conservation Centre. She was hoping, after finishing her degree and the courses she was taking, to be able to work for museums or, if she was lucky, in the curatorial department of some major library. Her work at the university library was nice, but antique books were her passion.
She hadn’t expected Lacey to show up at her home at all, taking into account she was supposed to be on the other side of the country, living the glamorous life of a Manhattan-based model. And though she had at first acted flippant, as if she had simply decided to impulsively visit her sister, she had eventually come clean about things. She had spoken in vague terms, and Belle hadn’t pushed for more, about increasing blackouts, bad decisions and regrets that were beginning to pile up. Then she talked about how when they were younger they used to play-act as each other and see whether they could fool their parents. Belle had read between the lines and told her she was crazy if she thought she was going to try a switch, like they did when they were girls.
“I’m scared, Bluebelle. I’ve never been scared this way before.”
That had decided her, then and there. She would see it through, how difficult could it possibly be? She had told herself over and over as she drove Lacey to a very private rehab centre and later took a flight to New York. She could continue with her thesis long-distance, her advisor preferred they meet virtually anyway. It was doable, and worth it. And it would only be for three months. Lacey needed that opportunity and she owed it to her sister to help her get it. Ruby, on the other hand, seemed to be more pessimistic about the whole thing.
“It’s just a couple of photoshoots and some fittings, right? I can do that.”
“Except that Lacey checked into rehab before I could tell her the house is pushing the fall show forward to avoid the competition getting wind of our designs like it happened in the last two shows. They bumped the date by six weeks, and Lacey’s program does not allow for contact with the outside world except in case of emergencies for the first whole month. So this means you will have to do a lot of the preparatory work and the pre-show, at least till we’re able to contact Lacey and get her to come back. Bosses want to give a sneak-peek to a few select names to further avoid being scooped.”
“A show? What do you mean a show?”
Ruby was looking her up and down, as if he was analysing every detail of her body. Surprisingly it did not feel creepy or objectifying, though it did make her feel anxious. Though Lacey and her were twins, she knew she wasn’t in shape the way Lacey was.
“Your measurements are not exactly Lacey’s. You have a bit more of a waist and thighs, and less breasts. Some padding will take care of the latter, and I suppose I can secretly get Granny to let out some of the clothes, but it won’t be enough. You gotta lose some weight or Joanna, the main fitter, will notice. We gotta get you ready for the pre-show events at least, and then we can adjust the clothes again for Lacey when she comes back. Granny will see to that. And so Lacey will handle the actual show, don’t worry about it. We’ll give her a call as soon as we’re able."
Belle took a few moments to be indignant about the remarks on her body. Sure, she wasn’t as thin as Lacey, and her breasts were more on the modest side, but that was because they were real. Then the reality of her situation sunk in and she began to panic.
“I can’t do this. I can’t do a show, or a pre-show, or whatever the fuck you’re talking about. I was psyching myself up for a fucking photoshoot, but a show? With an audience? No fucking way!”
Ruby seemed to be fully in agreement with her, which was nice.
“I know! Look, no offence, but fashion shows are gruelling and they’re an art form. Lacey is the face of the collection, so she’ll feature centre stage on that night. It’s more than okay to go get her back. Her career is everything to her. I’m sure she can arrange for a rehab stay later.”
It was that last sentence that gave Belle pause. She had accompanied her sister to the rehab centre at her request, so she would not chicken out last minute. Lacey had been determined but clearly uneasy, as if it had taken a lot to convince herself to take that last step. She could not undo the effort her sister had put into confronting her problem and making the decision to get better.
“If I pull Lacey out of rehab she’s not going to return. I can’t do that to her, Ruby. At least not right now, not when she’s taking the first steps. We’ll call her after the first mandated 28 days if we have to, but only if we have to. She needs this.”
To the model’s benefit she seemed to agree and be equally worried, before a determined expression settled across her face.
“If you’re staying then I’m helping you. Lacey’s a great friend and she deserves a break. She’s helped me more than once, I would be a bitch if I didn’t return the favour.”
Belle could see in Ruby the fierce loyalty that her twin tended to inspire in people, and though she hadn’t always been grateful for it she was now.
“Thank you, Ruby.”
“Don’t mention it. By the way, we gotta go visit Jefferson. He’s been asking about you and I told him I’d keep an eye on you and send you up to him when you got here. Gave me the perfect opportunity to intercept you and catch you up to speed.”
Jefferson’s office was as chaotic as Lacey had described, sketches, fabric samples and rhinestones littering every single surface not covered by half-finished dresses draped across forms or splayed across tables, a moodboard dominating the back wall. The man himself fit his environment, from the top hat barely clinging to his head to the mismatched socks, the brown brogues he must have arrived with carelessly kicked to a side of the desk. His hair was dishevelled, as if he had pulled at it till it was sticking in all directions, though the mess added to his handsomeness. Lacey had described him as “sinfully beautiful” and Belle could see why.
“There’s my Chesire cat! Lacey, darling, so good to see you!”
Jefferson was as exuberant as she had been led to believe, dramatically flinging himself at her, his long arms easily lifting her off the ground before unceremoniously letting her go. Like Ruby had reassured her the designer was respectful, his hands never wandering and his gaze warm and admiring without being predatory. Clearly Lacey and him got along like a house on fire, so she hoped the extra work that pushing the launch of the collection would produce would keep him too busy to interact much with her. He would surely notice the difference otherwise.
“I’m so glad you’re here, it’s been so chaotic with the new launch date and everyone making insane demands upon my artistry. Gold in particular has been a veritable beast. Man walks around like he’s about to bite someone’s head off. His accent has gotten out of hand. I would say something, except it’s kind of hot, you know?”
Rowan Gold. Founder and owner of the fashion house that bore his name, where Lacey had gotten her big break in spite of her less than ideal height and her sometimes problematic temper. A business giant in the art world, who had dealt in antiques before turning his attention to fashion and creating one of the leading fashion brands in the world, known for its whimsical, cutting-edge designs. And, according to her sister, an asshole. An irredeemable, unlovable asshole. Mean for sport. The type of man who would for sure fire any model that wound up caught in a scandal of any kind, even one as tame as doing a stint in rehab for substance abuse, something almost provincial in the modelling world.
“He’s just got this stick up his ass which I am almost 100% sure it’s because he hasn’t gotten any since the Great Depression or something.”
Lacey had never had a good thing to say about him, other than he dressed sharply, something her twin always thought important and partly the reason why Belle herself had developed her own very curated sense of fashion. Though both twins had different tastes, Lacey had always approved of her bold choices and her eye for quality.
“There’s no reason to dress like a librarian simply because you want to be one.”
Most of Belle’s admittedly expensive wardrobe came from Lacey, whose connections in the industry guaranteed her heavy discounts and often free clothing, a lot of which wasn’t her particular style and got sent straight to her. It was always a nice surprise to find a package waiting for her, with a note attached in Lacey’s careless handwriting: “Got this and thought of you!” It was the sort of thing that made Lacey so easy to love and so difficult to say no to, the reason why Belle was determined to not back down. All she needed to do was one measly fashion show. With a bit of practice and Ruby to help her she was sure she could do it.
“Yeah, well, Gold can relax. I’m here and ready to work!”
“And thank God for that! By the way… have you gained weight? Cause that’s gonna be a problem.”
Belle felt she couldn’t relax till she was in Lacey's apartment, alone and free from having to pretend to be her sister. She hurried towards the bathroom, wanting to get rid of the heavy make-up and the spray that kept her hair in the teased updos her twin favoured. No matter how much she had prepared for it, how much Lacey had told her about what to expect from anyone who could potentially want to speak with her, it had all been an utter disaster. She was glad no one had noticed how she’d clung to Ruby as she was caught up on the exciting news regarding the new date for the fall fashion show and what it would mean for her upcoming schedule. Afterwards Ruby had sympathetically offered her a pep talk before guiding her to one of the company cars with the express instruction to get some rest.
“The real work starts tomorrow. Might want to consider an early morning run by the way. Gotta get as close to Lacey’s measurements as possible. Granny can help with the bra padding, but you gotta do the rest.”
Lacey’s building was blessedly near, where the Garment District met Chelsea. It was a renovated rowhouse, preserving as much of its historical charm as possible. Not the type of building her twin would’ve picked, but apparently she had gotten the apartment through some sort of arrangement with the fashion house at a discounted price, certainly nothing to scoff at in the competitive real estate world of NYC. Belle loved the soft blue and gold wallpaper along the walls and the plaster crown moulding with its faded patina and spidery cracks. There was a French balcony with a few potted plants she quickly tended to and a reading nook with a built-in bookshelf bellow that sported the few books Lacey owned, mostly murder mysteries and spy thrillers, with the occasional biography sprinkled about.
She unpacked what little she had brought and did a bit of research on the neighbourhood, looking up a couple of promising running trails before opening the website for the New York Public Library, to make an appointment for a virtual consultation from an expert in the Rare Books division. There was a good chance something in their repository would be relevant to her research topic, and it felt helpful to do something she was good at. Tomorrow she would worry about fittings and fashion shows. Tonight she had books.
Waking up at five in the morning to fit in an early run before meeting Ruby for a coffee and some strategizing was a bad start to what looked like a lousy day. It took them the better part of it to devise a master plan of sorts regarding the next four weeks. Belle would need to be available to the House every day, for fittings and the like, so she would wake up early to sneak in a morning run and be at work promptly at 8 AM. She would meet with Ruby and Granny so the seamstress would know what dresses she needed to let out from previous collections, based on the photoshoots scheduled that week. Belle would model them to make sure they fit. After that Ruby would secure a corner somewhere to teach her how to walk the runway. It was a blessing that Belle was already fond of sky-high heels and so balance and endurance weren’t a problem, but there was more to walking like a model than being able to stand stilettos. There was a certain strut to it, a way to move the body and command attention, that Belle despaired over ever mastering to the extent her sister did. Lacey was magnetic, always had been, the twin most people gravitated towards. And that had always suited Belle just fine, except that now she needed to learn to step into the spotlight.
Jefferson, as it turned out, commanded a lot of her time. He had begun to sketch feverishly, which was welcome news after their original sketches for the fall show were compromised. This meant that the designer was absentminded, his head somewhere else half the time. This suited Belle just dine, since Jefferson’s familiarity with Lacey meant he would’ve likely spotted the switch otherwise. Though he seemed to sense, or at least feel, that something was different about her, it wasn’t enough to make him overly suspicious.
Though it was nice when all of his attention wasn’t on her, Belle soon found it preferable to being around Ashley. The young model was cute in a very girl-next-door way that Jefferson seemed to find somewhat lacking, often comparing her All-American looks with Belle’s- or rather Lacey’s- more interesting features. This clearly did not endear her to the blonde, who was borderline rude every time they shared the same space. Her constant digs at her age- at twenty-nine, it was true that Lacey was well past the usual age for retirement in the modelling business- did not bother Belle, but she could sense Ashley could become a bigger issue if her behaviour escalated.
“One last twirl? Mmh, still not sure about that silhouette, it’s not sitting on you the way it was a few weeks ago. Next one?”
Belle smiled at Jefferson, biting back a sigh of disappointment. She felt like she had been trying outfits for days now, but the designer seemed not to notice, looking feverish as he scribbled notes on the sketch corresponding to the outfit she was wearing. She trudged back to the set of folding screens that had been set up for her privacy, grabbing a nude-and-black outfit that did not make much sense on the hanger. When it was on she was glad that clearly Granny had gotten to it at some point and made the necessary alterations. It was more akin to a bondage garment than a haute couture piece, and the skirt tight, and the skirt in particular was meant to wrap around her legs in what she imagined was an alluring way, but paired with heels it made walking a chore.
She was halfway across the room, thinking that perhaps she was getting the hang of the skirt, when she tripped, her stiletto heels slipping from beneath her. The skirt didn’t allow her to compensate for it, sending her tumbling to the floor. Out of nowhere, however, someone grabbed her by the waist, giving her the leverage she needed to find her footing. Looking up she found that her saviour was a mysterious new person, a man dressed sharply in a dark grey suit and black tie, with the only nod towards colour being the burgundy swath of silk peeking out of the breast pocket. He had greying hair a tad longer than what was fashionable and though he looked older than most people she saw in the building, he made it look good. Lacey had always teased her about her preference towards older men, which Belle had always thought was a bit of an exaggeration, but she could not deny the man was her type. A silver fox through and through. Belle could not help but smile up at him, for once not feeling shy at the idea of meeting someone new who she was supposed to already know, since she was pretending to be her sister.
“Thank you, that was a close call.”
The man blinked, as if confused by something. Belle smiled wider, hoping to put him at ease. If anything it seemed to confuse him more, his soft brown eyes glued to her mouth for what felt like forever. Then he blinked, and the warmth seemed to seep right out of his face. His expression turned glacial and he let go of her waist, so suddenly that she stumbled before righting herself.
“Seems a bit too early to be drinking, doesn’t it Miss French?”
As Belle felt indignation curl deep in her gut her mind quickly processed that this was, most likely, Mr Gold, owner of the fashion house and, according to Lacey, one of the main reasons why her going to rehab had to be kept secret. It seemed obvious, both from what her sister had implied and from what the man himself had just said, that he had not only suspected Lacey of having a drinking problem, but also seemed to not be very tolerant of it. And though he was technically not wrong in his suspicions Belle resented his assumption and was in no mood to entertain his petty power trip, delicious accent or not.
“You’re more than welcome to step into Jefferson’s cocktail bondage fantasy dress and strut around in it if you have a problem with how I do it.” She turned to look at the designer, scrunching up her nose and trying to look apologetic. “I’m not really feeling this one, Jeff, gonna pass on it. Maybe Ashley could do it?”
Jefferson made a dismissing gesture.
“Don’t worry, Lace, I agree with you. Does not suit you at all. I think I’m gonna scrap it altogether. I’m shooting for intimacy for this collection but I think I’m going to go a different way with it.”
She smiled, relieved, and continued to flat out ignore the other man in the room, feeling nothing but satisfaction when it became clear that it seemed to piss him off.
“You’re a darling. Anything else you want me to try while I’m here?”
“Bless you, but no. I’ve imposed upon you enough. I’ve many ideas fluttering around my head after seeing all the looks, so expect some fresh new outfits in a few days. Right now I need to put pencil to paper. You’re free to go.”
Belle did not need to be told twice, turning around with as much grace as she could muster and slinking out of the room without even a glance towards the Scotsman still looking at her, his eyes hard and judging.
“What is this about some new sketches? Are you finally inspired?”
Gold had tried striking a delicate balance between letting Jefferson know how urgently the fashion house needed a new collection for the fall show and trying to keep the designer stress-free so he could work in peace. For weeks he had dragged his feet when it came to new designs, bemoaning the idea that he was expected to simply “have another vision”. Now it seemed Jeff was finally past his artistic temper tantrum.
“It’s all Lacey. She’s come back like such a breath of fresh air. There’s something… different about her. She’s as luminous as ever, but whereas before she commanded the attention of the room she now seems… lost in her own world. I’ve found that novelty quite inspiring.”
Gold grunted, unwilling to do or say anything that would upset Jefferson now that he seemed ready to be productive. And he did not entirely disagree with him. There was something… odd, about Miss French. That smile she had given him… He had never seen her look like that before.
“It’s like our Chesire Cat has turned into a Little Rabbit. Curiouser and curiouser. I’m thinking… soft. See-through, gauzy fabrics in soft shades of gold, like sunlight, and pale rose. Something fantasy-inspired, as if catching sight of a sprite deep into the woods, the intimacy of stepping into someone’s fantasy world.”
A picture began to form as the designer described his new vision, something that Gold could not deny seemed more than appealing.
“Let me see those sketches once you’re done, Jeff. I might want to tweak one or two.”
“Can do, boss.”
Season 5 AU where the contract for Rumple and Belle’s child is broken in a different way.
“Sorry to break up this beautiful domestic scene, but your baby is still mine.”
“No,” Belle insisted. “We had a deal. Gaston went in the sea.”
“I said I would break the contract if Gaston or Rumplestiltskin threw the other in the river,” the god of death refuted.
As his words sank in, Rumplestiltskin alone noticed a hooded figure slowly approach Hades and held Belle a bit closer.
Hades seemed unfazed by any of it. “But since Belle did the deed,” he went on with a chuckle. “What a…a fun surprise that was... no deal.”
Before Belle could further protest, the hooded figure sprang forward--
And pushed Hades into the River of Lost Souls.
“Not today,” he muttered as the three of them watched as the waters claimed the god of death and dragged him down.
Belle clung to Rumple as she looked from the water to their would-be savior. “What…how--“Her worried gaze returned to the man. “Who are you?”
Without a word, the stranger faced them and removed his hood.
Rumple took a step back in shock, Belle’s hold on his arm all that kept him steady. It wasn’t possible, but that did not stop the tears that welled in his eyes as he approached the man, arm outstretched to rest on his shoulder.
The younger man nodded, smiling as he was pulled into his father’s arms. He returned the embrace, gently pulling a tearful Belle into the family hug.
“H-how are you here?” Rumple whispered when he was finally willing to pull away but not letting go of his son’s hand. “Emma said that you…crossed over, that you…that you had no unfinished business…”
“I did,” he replied. “Then Zeus saw that Hades had crossed a line, that he was going to trap you down here.” He turned to Belle. “All of you. Even once he got the baby, he was never going to let any of you leave. Someone from…the other side coming down and sending him to the River was the only way to stop him.”
Belle instinctively placed a hand over her stomach, feeling able to breathe properly for the first time since she learned of the danger her baby was in. “So now with him gone, the contract is broken…our child is safe and we can all go home.”
“That’s right,” Rumple uttered firmly as she took his hand. Peace, love, pain and a new determination were clear in his eyes as he looked at Bae. “And you’re coming with us..”
Closing the Circle - chapter 9/?
Last time, Gold caught feelings, and Did Not Like It At All
After a restless night, Belle was woken by a buzz from her phone, a message from Mulan suggesting an early breakfast meet-up at the diner. Aurora had finished her night shift at the hospital and wanted to eat before heading home. Grainy-eyed and heavy-limbed, Belle dressed in a daze, leaving her apartment just as the clock turned seven. The weather had turned colder than ever, but the morning was bright and crisp, the sky a clear blue. It made her squint, and she ducked her head, pushing her chin into her scarf to escape the worst of the cold.
The diner was relatively quiet; a few men were clustered around tables with plates of eggs, bacon and pancakes, wearing the heavy boots and thick flannel shirts of those that worked in the open air. Mulan waved from a booth in the corner, Aurora by her side, and Belle slid into a seat opposite. Aurora was yawning, but she gave Belle a warm smile.
“Well, I know why I look tired,” she said. “What’s the matter with you?”
Belle wrinkled her nose.
“Didn’t sleep well,” she said. “I’m stressing out about the library. There’s so much to do before I open!”
“If you need help, I can give you a hand this afternoon,” offered Mulan. “Make use of me while you can, I’ve taken a job at the Rabbit Hole. Start tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s good,” said Belle. “Seems there’s an interesting cross section of the town that goes in there, you should find out some useful info.”
“The bar manager already warned me about some of the patrons,” said Mulan. “Only in a ‘don’t accept drinks from them’ way, not a ‘they’re actually the undead’ way. Pretty sure I got the job because he thinks some of them need their asses kicking and he doesn’t want to do it himself.”
Belle and Aurora chuckled as Emma bounced up, dressed in the white shirt and red skirt that the other waitresses wore, blonde hair tied back and a pad and pen in hand.
“Hey Emma,” said Mulan. “You work here now?”
“Oh - yeah, I thought since I was in town, I should probably pick up a few shifts,” said Emma. “I figured I’d hang around for a while longer, and I’m running a little low on cash.”
“How’s Lily?” asked Belle, and Emma wrinkled her nose.
“Okay, I think,” she said. “We’re gonna hang out later when I get off. What can I get you guys?”
“I’ll take eggs, bacon and hash browns,” said Mulan. “Are we all having coffee?”
“God, yes,” said Belle fervently, making Emma grin. “And I’ll have the French toast, please.”
“Yeah, that looks really good. It has berries on the side.”
“Ooh, that sounds great. Make it two,” said Aurora.
“Sure thing.” Emma scribbled on the pad. “I’ll get those started for you right away.”
She trotted off, blonde ponytail swinging, and Mulan eyed Belle, putting her head to the side.
“So,” she said. “You’re tired because you’re worrying about the library? Not because you went to visit a certain person last night for hot sex?”
“I was home alone,” said Belle flatly, but then hesitated. “I did go over Saturday, though.”
Mulan snorted, holding out her hand to Aurora.
“Did we say five bucks or ten?”
“Five,” said Aurora with a sigh, reaching for her purse, and Belle glared at them.
“Okay, you have to stop placing bets on me!”
“Yeah, we really should, you’re way too predictable.”
Mulan was grinning, but sat back as Emma arrived with the coffee pot. There was silence as she filled the cups and wandered off again, and Mulan flicked a dark eyebrow at Belle.
“So,” she said. “How did it go?”
“It was…” Belle chewed her lip, trying to find the right words. “It was amazing, actually. I don’t just mean the obvious - that’s always amazing. It was - I don’t know. He was different. Softer. If that’s the right word to use with him. He asked me to stay the night.”
“You’ve stayed over before,” said Mulan, and Belle shook her head.
“I know, but this time it was - different,” she said. “I’m not sure I’m explaining it well.”
Aurora had rested her elbows on the table as she sat forward, mirroring Mulan’s posture. The first two fingers of one hand were gently stroking Mulan’s arm in a seemingly unconscious gesture of affection, and she was watching Belle with a curious look in her eyes.
“Do you think you might love him?” she asked quietly, and Belle hesitated.
“I didn’t say that,” she said. “I - I mean I couldn’t, right? That would be - that would be a bad idea.”
“Right,” said Aurora flatly. “Because people always make sound logical choices when it comes to love, hmm?”
“I didn’t say I loved him.”
“You didn’t deny it, either.”
Belle sighed, slumping forward on the table.
“Okay, okay, I have feelings for him!” she said. “Don’t ask me what they are, I don’t think I’ve worked it out in my own head.”
“Belle…” sighed Mulan.
“I know!” Belle sank further into her folded arms. “It’s stupid, I know that, it’s just - he’s interesting. And clever. And there’s a different side to him. A side you guys haven’t seen.”
“If you mean his ass, yeah we did,” remarked Mulan. “Everything else, too. It’s kind of seared into my brain.”
“I don’t mean that,” said Belle, pushing up again. “I mean - I think he’s starting to open up to me. He tells me little snippets of his past, and - and I kind of get an idea of the man he used to be before.”
“Really?” Aurora looked interested. “What did he tell you?”
“Not much,” she admitted. “It was more a sense of how his life was. He talked about the rituals they followed, the feast days, that kind of thing. It was - evocative. Like he was back there again for a moment. Almost like I was there with him.”
Mulan glanced around the diner for a moment, then leaned in closer.
“Did he say anything about how he became a vampire?” she asked quietly, and Belle shook her head.
“No,” she said. “But he kind of hinted that he didn’t have much say in it. I wonder who it was. Who turned him?”
“I doubt they’re in Storybrooke, whoever they were,” said Aurora, and Belle nodded, leaning forward a little with her elbows on the table and her fingers threaded together.
“I really feel as though I’m getting somewhere with him,” she said softly. “And the knowledge he has - not just of dark creatures, but history. He’s - he’s an invaluable resource.”
“Just be careful,” she said. “He may dress like a businessman and read classic literature and pull your chair out when you sit down, but he’s still a vampire.”
“I know that…”
“He’s not human,” she went on. “He’s immortal. And he lives by feeding on people. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“He wouldn’t hurt me!” insisted Belle, and Mulan sighed again.
“Just don’t let your heart rule your head,” she said, and Belle sat back, folding her arms in irritation.
“Okay, you’re right about that last part,” she said. “I’ll be careful.”
“That’s all we’re asking.”
“But I’m right about him, too,” she added. “He could be a good man. I know it.”
Mulan made a noncommittal noise, and Belle decided to change the subject.
“How are you getting on at the hospital, Aurora?”
“Oh, it’s good,” said Aurora, her eyes lighting up. “The other nurses are nice, it seems well run.” She looked thoughtful. “There’s something weird about one of the doctors, though. I’m pretty sure he’s not fully human.”
“Well, as long as he knows what he’s doing and isn’t eating the patients,” said Mulan, sipping coffee. Aurora giggled.
“I don’t think so. He seems like a good doctor. I’m on shift again tonight and tomorrow, but I have Thursday and Friday off.”
She yawned, covering her mouth with a hand, and Mulan shook her head, reaching up to brush a thin strand of hair from her cheek.
“You look exhausted,” she said gently. “You sure you don’t want to get this breakfast to go? I don’t mind feeding you French toast in bed, you know.”
“Sounds like I wouldn’t get much rest,” said Aurora, with a sly grin. “Besides - crumbs.”
Aurora shivered then, rubbing her arms briskly, and Belle frowned.
“I don’t know.” She wrinkled her nose, looking around the diner. “There’s a weird kind of energy in the air. You guys can’t feel it?”
“Babe, I’m about as sensitive as a sledgehammer when it comes to this kind of stuff,” said Mulan bluntly. “Belle?”
Belle shook her head, and Aurora shuddered again.
“I felt something yesterday when I was trying to meditate,” she said. “It’s something new. A kind of - jagged - feeling. You really can’t sense it?”
“I don’t know.” Belle looked out of the window, eyeing the passing townsfolk enjoying the crisp, bright day. “It feels kind of heavy, I suppose. Like there’s a storm coming.”
“Yes!” said Aurora eagerly. “Almost like there’s lightning forming.”
“So maybe a storm is coming,” said Mulan, gesturing at the cloudless sky. “Give it a day or two and there could be a deluge.”
“Yeah,” said Aurora. “Maybe.”
She looked unconvinced, and Mulan put an arm around her.
“You could always try that spell you were working on,” she suggested, and Aurora perked up.
“The one that identifies magical energy sources?” she said. “Yeah, I think it’s about ready for a test run.”
“You think we can isolate the magical source for whatever this is, given we’re in Storybrooke?” asked Belle. “There have to be a lot of potential sources, right?”
“Yeah, we probably need to finetune it.”
“I was reading something on using crystals to focus energy,” added Belle. “Maybe that’ll help.”
“Sounds like you and I have some experiments to run later this week,” said Aurora, winking at her, and Mulan chuckled.
“I guess that means I’m supplying tea and snacks and dodging the explosions, then.”
“Hey, we haven’t exploded anything in - well, days!” Aurora objected.
“Not turning down the tea and snacks, though,” said Belle.
Once breakfast was over, Mulan and Aurora walked Belle to the library on their way home. Belle was feeling a little better after two cups of coffee, but made herself another cup to drink while she sorted through the contents of the circulation desk. She discarded old files and out of date women’s magazines, sipping at her coffee. There was a pile of old copies of The Storybrooke Mirror, and after a moment’s hesitation she set those aside. Perhaps they might provide some useful information on the town’s inhabitants.
A pounding on the library door dragged Belle out of her stupor, and she slopped coffee over her wrist in her hurry to answer it. A large pile of boxes was outside, a van on the side of the road with its engine running and a harassed looking man carrying over another box. He dropped it on the ground with a thud, making Belle jump.
“French?” he asked, tugging an electronic device from his pocket. “I got six boxes here. You need to sign for ‘em.”
“Oh good, my books!” she said eagerly.
She scrawled her signature on the device with its stylus, and the man grunted and trotted back to his truck. Belle shoved the library door open with her hip as she hefted one of the boxes in her arms to carry inside. She dropped it to the floor almost immediately; the box was heavy, and she bent to push it across the polished floor rather than carry it. She was panting by the time she reached the circulation desk, but she couldn’t stop grinning. The new stock had arrived, and the library could open that week as planned.
She spent the morning going through the boxes, sorting the books by genre and stacking them on the circulation desk ready for entering into the computer system. New software had been provided by the town, along with an electronic scanner to check out and return books. A stack of plastic library cards sat in the desk drawer, ready to be issued to the townsfolk, and Belle began the laborious process of marking up the spines of the books with reference numbers.
Engrossed in her work, she barely noticed the squeak of the door opening, and it was only when she heard the rhythmic click of heels on the parquet floor that she glanced up. A woman had entered, and was looking around with interest. She was taller than Belle, with reddish-blonde curls and a pale face beneath a wide-brimmed green hat. Her dress was green too, the skirt long and flowing above black ankle boots, and her lips were pursed as she scanned the half-empty stacks.
“Hello?” called Belle, and the woman’s mouth flowed into a wide smile as she turned on the pointed toes of her boots.
“Oh, I didn’t see you there,” she said carelessly. “I presume you’re the new librarian? You have been busy, haven’t you?”
Belle gave her best customer service smile.
“The library isn’t open yet,” she said. “I’m still sorting out the stock. But if you’re interested in joining, please come by on Friday after ten a.m. We’re having an opening event. Games and snacks for the children in the morning, or there’s an evening event for adults only if you’d prefer. There’ll be wine and nibbles of some sort, if that tempts you.”
“I’ll consider it,” said the woman.
Despite her wide smile, or perhaps because of it, Belle thought there was something off about her.
“I’m Belle,” she said. “Belle French. I only recently moved to Storybrooke.”
“Oh, I know,” said the woman airily. “You and the two lesbians. Or are you a threesome? That’s been a matter of some discussion amongst the locals, and no one can decide.”
Belle decided their sexualities were none of the woman’s business.
“Lovely to meet you,” she lied, to change the subject. “And you are?”
“Zelena Mills,” said the woman, still smiling.
“Mills? Oh, you’re the Mayor’s daughter.”
“Her eldest, yes.” Zelena raised her chin a little.
“I met your sister when I picked up the keys to this place,” said Belle. “Regina, isn’t it?”
“She’s my half sister, actually,” said Zelena, curling her lip a little.
Belle sensed there was some sort of rivalry between the two, though whether Regina knew about it was another matter.
“Well, it’s good of you to stop by,” she said. “If you let me know the kind of books you like, I can look for something in that genre.”
Zelena showed her teeth a little more.
“Actually, I’m interested in any books you have on magic.”
It was said in a light tone, but Belle sensed a change in the atmosphere, a tense weight in the air around them. A low voice seemed to whisper in her ear, urging caution.
“I have a few books on the history of witchcraft and some others on ancient mythologies,” she said. “I’m afraid it’s not a large selection, but I do have others on order.”
Zelena leaned on the desk on her folded arms, still with that wide grin.
“I meant real magic,” she said softly.
Belle met her gaze, wishing that Mulan and Aurora were there. Of course their arrival would have caused discussion amongst the townsfolk, wondering if they were friend or foe. No doubt Zelena would report back to the Mayor with whatever she was told. Belle decided on the truth. Part of it, anyway.
“I’m afraid the only books like that are in our private collections,” she said. “Not for lending out. If there’s anything specific you’re looking for, I can certainly try to order it.”
Pushing back from the circulation desk, Zelena nodded, looking satisfied.
“So,” she said. “Three more witches.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Belle hurriedly. “None of us are practising witches. We’ve studied a little, that’s all.”
Zelena studied her, eyes raking over her. Whatever she saw, her expression didn’t change.
“So what brings you to Storybrooke?” she asked. “No one here is looking to take on an apprentice.”
“The librarian post brought me here,” said Belle. “Beyond that, it seems like a nice, quaint town.”
“Really?” Zelena’s voice was flat. “Out of all the librarian posts you could have taken, you just happen to choose one in a town with as many witches and magical creatures as regular humans.”
Belle let out a soft chuckle.
“I think you overestimate the number of librarian positions,” she said, and pretended to be curious. “Wait - did you say magical creatures?”
Zelena clicked her tongue in annoyance, glancing away.
“Never mind all that,” she said. “Why are you really here?”
“I told you,” said Belle evenly. “I’m a librarian, there was a librarian post available. My friend is a nurse, and she now works at the hospital. My other friend works at The Rabbit Hole. We’re here to make the most of small town life. I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything more exciting.”
“Hmm.” Zelena looked unconvinced. “I presume you’re renting? Have you met the landlord?”
“Mr Gold?” Belle let her brow crinkle in apparent puzzlement. “Yes.”
Zelena leaned on the desk again, eyebrows twitching. That insincere smile was back.
“And what did you make of him?” she asked.
Belle licked her lips, hoping that she wouldn’t blush.
“Polite, well-dressed, very keen on people sticking to the terms of their deals with him,” she said. “I don’t think I’d like to get on his wrong side.”
Zelena pushed back, looking satisfied.
“Well,” she said. “I suppose I should say welcome to Storybrooke. I’m sure you’ll like it here. For however long you stay.”
“Thank you,” said Belle, aware that she sounded equally insincere. “Do stop by when the library opens, won’t you?”
Zelena sniffed, turning on her heel, and Belle watched as she stalked out. The door closed with a thump, and Belle let herself frown after the woman. It wasn’t often that she took an instant dislike to someone, but whenever she did, there was always a good reason.
Gold was in a foul mood. There was an odd, aching feeling in his chest, the first true pain he had felt in years, but he was trying to ignore it. Perhaps it was the after-effects of his late night meal with Cruella and Jefferson. He had never had a bad reaction to feeding on a human in the past, but there was a first time for everything. He was tempted to stay at home and leave the shop closed for a day or two, but breaking his routine would excite comment, and that was the last thing he wanted.
He dressed carefully, his shirt and tie black silk beneath a black suit, the sombre colour suiting his dark thoughts. It felt as though a storm was coming, a heaviness in the air making his skin tingle. It was cold enough to snow, despite the clear sky, and he drew on his heavy woollen coat, dark glasses protecting his eyes from the sun’s glare as he walked to town. The shop, in contrast, was dark and inviting, and he closed the door and went through to the back room. It had been tempting to flip the sign on the door to Closed and free himself from the usual irritations of visiting tenants, but he resisted the urge. Rent day was some way off, after all. Perhaps he would be left in peace.
It was some hours later that he felt her presence, a tingle in his skin as she entered the shop with a light tinkle of the bell above the door. He could smell her scent in the air, and it made his loins stir at the memory of her in his bed. Mouth flattening, he stood back from the workbench, dusting off his hands and listening to the click of her heels on the wooden floor.
She knew what he was. Enough that she trusted him a little. Perhaps he could use that. He closed his eyes for a moment, calming himself and freeing that dangerous part of him that could whisper into a person’s soul. To drive them away, or to bring them closer. Licking his lips, he eyed the cane leaning against the bench for a moment before ignoring it and heading for the shop.
Belle chewed her lip, glimpsing a flicker of light beyond the curtain that led to the back room. It was almost as though she could feel him coming, the sense of him in the air around her, a warm weight pressing against her body. Sure enough, Gold pushed the curtain aside and stepped into the shop. He didn’t have his cane, and she wondered if he had known it was her. His eyes caught and held hers, dark pits framed by soft hair, and she felt a shiver go through her at the intensity of his gaze. A soft voice murmured at the back of her mind, a soothing caress, telling her to move closer.
“Miss French,” he said quietly. “I wasn’t expecting you today.”
She opened her mouth to tell him about Zelena’s visit, and the voice whispered in her mind again, a low, lilting murmur, urging her forward. Belle blinked, taking a step back from him and folding her arms.
“Stop that,” she said flatly.
“Whatever it is you’re doing.”
The corner of his mouth pulled upwards.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes you do.”
He watched her steadily, and she met his gaze. Something gleamed in the depths of his eyes, a muscle twitching in one cheek, and then he licked his lips, glancing away. The soft voice in her head winked out as though it had never been, and Belle let her arms fall back to her sides.
“What the hell was that?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do!” she insisted, glaring at him. “Don’t play your games with me, I thought we were past all that!”
His voice was quiet, and somehow lifeless. She frowned, shaking her head.
“Why should anything be wrong?” he asked mildly.
Belle stared at him for a moment. His face gave nothing away, and she decided to change the subject.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I had a visit from Ms Mills today. Zelena, is it?”
One eyebrow twitched, but his expression didn’t change.
“How pleasant for you,” he said.
“Not really, she seems - well, she seems not to like me too much,” she said. “Very suspicious of my reasons for being here.”
“Interested to know what I thought about you, too,” added Belle.
“And what did you tell her?”
“Nothing,” she said. “That you were polite and well-dressed and that I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of you.”
He looked amused at that, his eyes glinting, and took a step forward.
“Which side might that be?” he asked softly, and Belle licked her lips.
“Now, stop that!” she said severely. “I didn’t come over here to flirt.”
“I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”
“I came to ask you something,” she went on, as though he hadn’t spoken. “The library is due to open on Friday. We’re having an adults-only event in the evening. Will you come?”
There was a flicker of surprise in his eyes.
“For what purpose?” he asked. “To drink mediocre wine and listen to the residents of Storybrooke tell you about their favourite bedtime reading?”
“To be honest the wine probably won’t even be mediocre,” she said, with a tiny laugh. “I can’t afford much better than rough as hell.”
“Hardly a ringing endorsement.”
“Fine, suit yourself,” she sighed, unsurprised by his lack of enthusiasm but still a little disappointed. “In that case maybe you’ll answer a few questions instead.”
He was silent for a moment, then gave a tiny shrug.
“I was reading something in one of my books last night, and it made me think of a few theories we have about the townsfolk.”
“I told you I wouldn’t reveal their identities.”
“I know, but I thought maybe you’d have some more general answers,” she said. “It’s just that some of the terminology in my books is contradictory, and I want to be sure I’m using it right.”
“Okay,” she said. “Do you consider yourself one of the undead?”
Gold’s mouth twitched a little.
“Oh no,” he said softly. “I’m very much alive. Though perhaps not as you would see it. Perhaps it’s all about perception.”
“You look pretty alive to me,” she said. “So - how would you describe yourself?”
“As a vampire.”
His mouth flattened a little, as though he was wearied by her questions.
“An immortal, I suppose,” he said.
“What about other vampires?”
“You’d have to ask them.”
“I would, if I knew who they were.”
A tiny, secretive smile.
“I’m sure your thirst for solving mysteries will come in useful there.”
Belle huffed in irritation.
“At least tell me if there are some in Storybrooke,” she said. “That’s not giving anyone away, is it?”
Gold sucked his teeth, glancing away as though considering the matter before looking back.
“There are vampires other than myself in Storybrooke,” he acknowledged.
“Oh good! So, we have vampires, witches, and werewolves, as far as I can work out,” she said, ticking them off on a hand. “Also I’m pretty sure there are a couple of selkies.”
“It appears you and your friends have been busy.”
Belle bounced on her toes excitedly. ““So - do you guys all know each other? Are there secret handshakes and - oh, I don’t know - like some supernatural creature version of Tindr, or something?”
There was a momentary flicker of amusement in his eyes, but his face remained impassive.
“It’s a small town,” he said non-committedly. “Doesn’t everyone know everyone’s business?”
“Are there demons?”
“What about zombies?” she asked, and Gold shuddered.
“Gods I would hope not. Terrible conversationalists. Absolutely ruin a dinner party.”
Belle gave him a level look.
“Do they actually exist, though?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t call reanimated corpses a species,” he said. “They have no mind, no sentience. No desire other than to feed.”
Belle filed away the information he had given her, thinking over what he had told her. She glanced up, and he was watching her closely, golden light glinting in his eyes. It made a shiver go through her.
“What is it about Storybrooke?” she asked softly, and he blinked.
“Something Zelena said just made me think,” she said. “Storybrooke is - well, it’s supposed to be safe, isn’t it? A kind of sanctuary for supernatural creatures.”
“So far,” he said.
“But there are just as many humans here,” she went on. “Given that some of you like to eat humans, how does that work?”
“It’s bad form to eat the townsfolk,” he said, and she shot him a look.
“Yeah, but you could have driven them out altogether if you wanted,” she said. “Given the amount of nervousness I’ve seen over me, Aurora and Mulan moving in, I would have thought some of the townsfolk might have preferred we hadn’t.”
“Some, perhaps,” he acknowledged. “Most accept that it’s far easier to blend in when there are as many humans as the rest of us.”
“You said it had been a haven for centuries,” she said.
“So I’m told.”
“So what makes it that way?”
“Because it’s in the interest of both sides to be tolerant of the other,” he said. “And because any attempt to change that has been swiftly and severely dealt with.”
“Really?” Belle could feel a surge of curiosity. “So people have been attacked in the past? When was that?”
Gold clicked his tongue, sounding irritated.
“Power struggles aren’t confined to the outside world,” he said. “Some see an opportunity and try to push their luck. I take a dim view of these things.”
“Surprised you didn’t run for Mayor yourself, in that case.”
He smiled at that, the glint back in his eyes.
“The appearance of power doesn’t always match the reality.”
“So you’re content to be a landlord and shopkeeper?” she said.
He took a step forward, then another, and she felt her breath catch in her throat as the scent of him wrapped around her and seemed to pull her closer to him. Her heart thumped as he shifted even closer, his nose almost brushing against hers.
“Would you say that’s all I am?” he asked, his voice a low, rasping growl.
He reached up to touch her cheek, fingers sliding into her hair and making her shiver, and Belle swallowed hard.
“There’s - there’s also lurking in the shadows and being dramatic,” she said.
He let out a rumbling chuckle, fingers stroking back along her jaw, and Belle closed her eyes, waiting for the feel of his lips against her throat. The sound of the shop doorbell was loud and harsh, and her eyes flew open as Gold let out a hiss of vexation and pulled back.
“May I help you, Ms Mills?” he demanded.
Belle sucked in a breath, turning to face the door. Zelena Mills was watching them with narrowed eyes, her mouth working as though she was trying not to shout. After going through some sort of internal struggle, she managed to wrangle her lips into something approaching a smile.
“Well!” she said brightly. “Forgive me for interrupting - whatever was going on between you two!”
“May I help you?” Gold repeated evenly, and Belle stepped back from him, heart still thumping.
“Uh - I should be going,” she said. “I’ll - um - I’ll just - uh…”
She let the sentence tail off, heading blindly for the door. Zelena stepped aside, pulling her skirts around her legs with a twist of distaste to her mouth, as though Belle was pulling a torrent of sewage in her wake. Belle let the door close behind her with a sigh of relief. Well. That was awkward.
She headed back to the library, intending to add to the notes she had been making on Storybrooke and its inhabitants. The town was getting more interesting by the day.
Zelena had watched Belle leave before turning back to Gold with a sniff and a toss of her hair. He headed for the counter, stepping behind it to put some distance between them, and she sauntered over, glancing over her shoulder at the door before turning back to face him with a twisted smile.
“So,” she said. “You and the librarian, hmm? And here I thought you had more refined taste. She’s pretty, I suppose. If you like the obvious.”
“My private affairs are none of your business,” he said.
“It’s my business when she and her friends upset the balance in this town,” she said. “Storybrooke doesn’t need more witches. Especially witches that are outside of the Coven.”
“So ask them to join you,” he said, and she snorted.
“Why would we? The Coven has always been family.”
“Mal and Lily are hardly blood relatives.”
“They’re certainly more family than these - these strangers!” she snapped. “Besides, we don’t need a couple of amateurs getting in the way. Lily’s causing quite enough problems as it is.”
“What problems?” he asked, and she waved a hand.
“No need for you to concern yourself with us,” she said coldly. “I suggest you pay more attention to threats from outsiders rather than worrying over nothing.”
“I find it amusing that you think you can tell me what to do,” he said, his tone flat, and she bared her teeth.
“I’m merely expressing some friendly concern, of course.”
“The librarian is trouble,” she went on. “Poking her nose in where it isn’t wanted.”
“She’s curious,” he said. “It’s hardly a crime.”
“She doesn’t belong here,” she said insistently. “And it’s making everyone’s tail twitch. For some, quite literally. Either kill her, turn her, or send her away. Choose, before we choose for you.”
Gold tamped down the flare of rage he felt at her words, but managed to keep his face impassive.
“Are you threatening to break the Covenant?” he asked, his voice low, soft with menace. “Think very, very carefully before you do.”
Despite his quiet tone, something must have shown in his eyes, because Zelena swallowed hard, a shadow of fear flitting across her face as she took a step back.
“I hold to the Covenant,” she said, a little breathlessly. “I assure you.”
“Wonderful.” He kept that soft, threatening tone. “Then you won’t be touching Miss French or any other resident of Storybrooke, are we clear?”
“Of course,” she said, still sounding a little flustered. “None of us will harm her.”
“I’ll have your word on that, will I?”
Zelena’s mouth twisted, as though she was amused and trying not to show it.
“My,” she said. “You’re quite taken with her, aren’t you?”
Gold spread his hands on the counter top, fingers splaying out as he eyed her calmly.
“I have lived in this town for over sixty years,” he said quietly. “The reason it’s still seen as a haven for my kind, for all dark creatures, is the Covenant. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that it’s also the reason you and the rest of the humans can live here without fear of becoming a meal for the next demon that wants a taste of you.”
Zelena’s smirk had turned into something sour.
“You may want to remind some of your kin,” she said. “I’m well aware that there are vampires at the Rabbit Hole that push the boundaries at times.”
“They’re young, foolish, and lustful, but they won’t bite anyone who doesn’t offer themselves,” he said. “I hear some people are into that.”
“Like your Miss French?” she said snidely. “Quite the vampire groupie, it seems.”
Gold gave a languid shrug.
“I can’t be responsible for what turns some mortals on,” he said, in a bored voice. “As long as everyone holds to their side of the bargain that was made, there’s no reason we can’t all get along, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I just think that she—”
Gold smacked his hand down on the counter with a resounding crack, making Zelena jump, her pale blue eyes wide with shock.
“You will hold to the Covenant, Ms Mills,” he said, his tone still menacing. “Unless you want me to demonstrate why your forebears were so eager to agree in the first place. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Mr Gold.”
She was breathing heavily, partly fear and partly, he was aware, arousal. It was repellent, and almost made him want to reach across the counter and tear her throat out. He pushed the urge back down, deep into the pit of his belly, smothering it.
“Excellent,” he said softly. “Now get out of my shop. You have nothing further that I want.”
She opened her mouth as though she was about to say something, then swallowed hard, nodding, and walked swiftly to the door. He watched her go, his mouth set in a grim line. The Covenant had held for decades. Zelena was just unstable enough not to care if it was broken. The arrival of Belle and her friends had changed something within the town, for good or ill, and threatened to shatter the relative peace he had managed to find. Pushing back from the counter, he headed for the back room, his mouth twisted in a grimace. He had made his decision and was determined to stick with it, but it didn’t make him feel any better.
So, I decided to post the intro to my Rumbelle’d Princess Bride AU WIP
A little excerpt:
Once upon a time in a land full of magic and mischief, in a small kingdom known as Avonlea, there was a young Lady named Isabelle. Now most noble women had their odd hobbies, but Isabelle’s was the oddest by far, as her favourite pastime was bothering her father’s poor lonesome Spinner.
You can find it Here
Prompts: Forbidden. Shared custody. Light in her eyes.
wheel of the seasons
"The sun has almost set."
"Maybe they were delayed."
"Maybe they won't make it at all!"
Belle wasn't sure where the words, spoken in a hopeful whisper, had come from, but she still shot a glare in the general direction of the speakers. Nobody noticed, of course, and maybe that was for the best. Belle had her reasons for hoping the Ereboi would not miss the Passing of the Seasons, but her fellow courtiers hardly shared them and would have asked awkward questions if they had noticed her state of mind.
He's going to come, she told herself firmly. He always does.
The sun dipped below the horizon and even Belle's stalwart optimism was beginning to fade, when she noticed the hush falling over the crowd.
She knew who they had sent, even before the whispers started, and she had to force herself to keep still, not to push her way to the front of the crowd. They couldn't afford carelessness.
Instead, she listened and tried, as casually as possible, to catch a glimpse of him across the room. The whispers had reached her now. They'd sent the Dark One, people muttered. The Beast of Erebos. The worst monster at a court filled with monsters.
Belle had grown up on all those same stories, but she had reason to suspect that Erebos was little better or worse than their own kingdom. Centuries of bitter wars and brittle ceasefires that could never quite be called peace didn't make for a flattering picture of the enemy. She wondered what the children in Erebos were taught about their counterparts in Hemera, then tore her thoughts away from the topic.
The bitter mutterings of her fellow courtiers fell away the moment Belle caught a glimpse of the emissary, who had dropped into a shallow bow before the royal thrones. Somehow, he managed to make even this gesture of respect look sarcastic.
"Your Majesties," he said, voice pitched high, as if perpetually on the verge of a mocking laugh.
"Dark One," Queen Snow replied. She did her best to appear civil, though with little success. Even from her position, Belle could hear the Queen's disapproving sneer.
Rumplestiltskin rose from his bow without waiting for the sign to do so. "The Court of Erebos sends its greetings," he said, "and thanks you for your stewardship of the Season's Crown."
More mutterings. Technically, both courts had equal claims to the crown and its immense reserves of magic. The current arrangement of switching stewardship on the equinox was one of the shaky pillars their current state of peace was built upon, but it was seen as bad form to point it out so blatantly.
Just as Belle was about to retreat from the audience chamber—this trading of barbs could go on for quite some time—when Rumplestiltskin's gaze darted to the side and instantly found hers. For the briefest moment, something like warmth flickered across those cold golden eyes, but it was gone as soon as he turned back to his task.
After that, Belle stayed to watch the entire handover ceremony. Despite the barbs and the general air of discomfort, she couldn't deny that, if nothing else, the emissary was quite lovely to look at; especially from this angle. When the audience was concluded and the Queen and King proclaimed the beginning of the autumn celebrations, Belle slipped away from the bustling crowd.
~ * ~
It had taken her some time, but in the end, Belle had found a part of the castle that wasn't either buzzing with serving staff, busily supplying the feast, or idling nobles that had stolen away from the main halls for more private... conversations.
Not that she was one to judge.
The corridor was dark and at this time of the year, too chilly to be comfortable. She rubbed at her arms, wishing she'd worn a dress with longer sleeves, when a low voice sounded in her ear.
"I was beginning to worry you wouldn't come."
Her heart gave a lurch of excitement and Belle spun, throwing her arms around the man behind her, barely more than an outline in the darkness. Their lips met, clumsy at first, before he melted against her. After months of separation, kissing Rumple felt like coming home.
After far too short a moment, Belle forced herself to pull back. Her eyes hadn't quite adjusted to the dark, yet, but she could still see the outline of Rumple's face; the way the moonlight glinted off his scales.
"Someone could see," she whispered.
"What, all the way out here? Sweetheart, I doubt even the mice know this part of the castle even exists."
Belle gave a little laugh and hoped he couldn't hear the trembling in it. "I missed you," she managed to say.
"And I you." His lips were warm against her forehead and she leaned against him, enjoying his warmth.
"How is he?" Belle finally asked.
"Fast asleep in your quarters."
Immediately, the knot in Belle's chest loosened. Not seeing Rumple between the changing of the seasons was bad enough. Not seeing Gideon for half of each year…
"We can go see him if you like," Rumple suggested gently.
Belle bit her lower lip, then shook her head. "Later," she decided. "I-" She sighed. "Is it selfish if I want you for myself? Just for now?"
"If it is, I'll gladly be called a selfish man." Rumple leaned in, trailing his lips across the shell of her ear. "I've missed you every day." His mouth wandered lower. "And dreamed of you every night."
"Not here," Belle whispered urgently, but she made no attempt at pushing him away.
"Nobody will see," Rumple assured her, brushing hands down her back.
Part of her almost wanted to get discovered. At least then the hiding would be over.Of course, that would come with its own problems. They had talked about this. Had even talked about running away and leaving the Courts and their squabbling behind.
And being on the run wouldn't give their son a normal life, either.
Belle pushed aside those thoughts, focusing on Rumple entirely. And when she let him push her against the wall, his mouth on her neck, her hands in his hair, she managed to let the world fall away entirely, even if it was only for a short time.
Their arrangement wasn't perfect. But it worked for them.
It was enough.
~ * ~
Snow fell softly and Rumplestiltskin glared at the flakes with an intensity that should have melted them before reaching the ground. It had been quite some time—centuries, really—since anyone had made him wait out in the cold, but that was not the reason he was out of sorts.
In all the years of their secret affair, Belle had never once contacted him and she knew that calling him away from court at the solstice meant that he would definitely be missed. The summons were supposed to be for an emergency, for a situation where her or Gideon's life were at risk. The fact that she had yet to show up was beginning to drive Rumplestiltskin half mad with worry.
Then he heard it. Footsteps in the snow. The sound was dampened by the thick layer covering the ground, but he would recognise the rhythm of her step anywhere. He turned, bracing himself for bad news, and paused when he saw her approach through the forest.
Belle was carrying something in her arms. No, Rumplestiltskin thought dazedly, not something, someone. She carried a bundle wrapped in a woolen cloak, and from the size and the infinite care she took, it could only be Gideon.
Panic rose in Rumplestiltskin's chest, but he squashed it down. This went against every precaution they had agreed on but she had to have a reason for bringing him.
"Belle," he called, remembering that she could not see as well in the dark as he did.
Her head snapped up, eyes darting around. When she spotted him a weak smile appeared on her face and she made her way over to the little clearing she'd given as their meeting place.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, "I didn't know what else to do."
"It's all right," he assured her, although he had no idea if he was even telling the truth. "Let me hold him."
She handed the sleeping child over, and Rumplestiltskin immediately spun a thin weave of magic over the boy to keep him warm and asleep. He had the feeling that this would not be an easy conversation.
"What happened?" he asked, looking up from Gideon's sleeping face with some effort. The months away from his son always wore on him.
"It's Gideon," Belle said quietly.
Rumplestiltskin's heart sank and something of his panic must have shown on his face, because Belle immediately raised her hands to placate him.
"No, nothing like that," she said quickly. "He's fine. He's… wonderful, in fact." She pressed her lips together, and in the moonlight, her eyes looked very large and so very, very blue. "Yesterday, he showed magic for the first time."
Rumplestiltskin blinked, caught halfway between relief and confusion. Yes, Gideon was quite young to be showing the signs of a magical talent but not too young.
And then he realised.
"It's dark magic," Rumplestiltskin whispered, his heart sinking again. Of course it was. With Gideon's happy disposition and kind temperament, he'd allowed himself to hope—to delude himself—that maybe he hadn't passed his curse on to his child.
A fool's hope.
A slender hand on his face, cold from the night air but still warm against his skin, tore him from his spiralling thoughts. "It's not dark magic," she said gently. "It's all light. The brightest you have ever seen."
Relief flooded him, enough to make his knees buckle. "Then what-"
"He can't control it," Belle said, letting her hand drop. "It won't harm anyone, but he'll never be able to hide it."
And now, finally, Rumplestiltskin understood. She hadn't called him because she was in trouble. She had called him so he could see his son one last time.
"He can't stay with me," he said, looking down at the sleeping boy in his arms. Suddenly, he didn't want Gideon to be asleep anymore. Didn't want him to miss what might be their last moments together for years. If not longer.
"We could hide him," Rumplestiltskin suggested. "Nobody needs to know about this, we could-"
"Keep him away from all other children until he is old enough to control his magic?" Belle asked. Her tone was still gentle, but firm.
Rumplestiltskin sagged. No matter how much he wanted to, he wasn't that selfish of a man. "No, of course not," he said. "You're right."
"I know I am." Belle laid her hand over his on Gideon's shoulder. "That's why we're going to leave."
It took Rumplestiltskin a moment to understand what she had said. "We can't," he said immediately. They had talked about this. They had obligations. Belle might only be a minor noble at court, but she had the Queen's ear, and her absence would be noted. If it came out that she had run away with the Beast of Erebos, it might even be the cause of a new war. And as for Rumplestiltskin... nobody liked the Dark One, but he was the kingdom's most powerful magic user. He could hardly just up and disappear.
Belle knew this. They both knew this. And yet, when he looked at her, the light in her eyes showed a core of steel underneath. She had made her decision; he just had to catch up.
"We can," she said simply. "And we will. I'm not letting Gideon grow up without his father." She swallowed, an old pain flickering across her face. "He deserves a chance at a normal life, Rumple. We deserve a chance."
"They'll come after us."
"They'll try." Her hands slid up his arm. "Please, Rumple. I don't want to lose you."
And what could he say to that?
"All right." He tried for a smile and almost succeeded. "I never much liked the court, anyway."
A smile lit up Belle's face, and Rumplestiltskin wondered why it had taken him so long to decide. He leaned in, careful of the sleeping child in his arms and brushed a kiss against her lips. She tasted of spring.
"Thank you," she whispered, lips brushing against his.
"I love you," he replied.