lotus0kid: (dancer)
[personal profile] lotus0kid
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 3,826
Disclaimer: Recognize anything? Then it ain't mine.
Summary: AU within “Skin Deep”. Rumpelstiltskin takes Belle home to celebrate the end of the ogre wars.
A/N: Jeez, this took some effort. Anyway...
1. Chouchen is a type of mead made in Brittany, France.
2. I imagine the music sounding very close to this, though with a bit more percussion and a flute or two. Sorry for the quality, it was the best vid I could find.

The first letter appears within weeks of Belle’s arrival at Rumpelstiltskin’s estate. Her face lights up like the dawn at the sight of it, distracting him just long enough for her to rip open the seal and start reading. He magicks it out of her hands and into his own, and her face darkens.

“That letter’s for me,” she says pointedly.

Rumpelstiltskin skims the page, “Clearly.” Boring tidbits of life from her father’s house. Admonitions to take care. Messages of love and remembrance. Updates on the war. Mostly harmless, he determines. Still...

“May I have it?” Belle asks, not keeping the anger from her voice particularly well.

“I don’t have much fondness for the thought of couriers pounding on my gates night and day, waving about letters for you.”

“They won’t!” Belle protests- the anger is more fear now, “I’ll tell my father to only write once a month- once a year. Believe me, Rumpelstiltskin, I’ll go mad with worry if I never have any news from home.”

“And if the news is bad? Will you abandon your post in that instant or wait long enough to inform me you’re breaking our deal? If the letter says your entire village has been destroyed by ogres and everyone’s heads stuck on pikes- what will you do then?”

Belle does not roll her eyes. She’s extremely good at that. “Setting aside the fact that if that happened our deal would be null and void, who exactly would write to tell me?”

That stumps him momentarily.

“Regardless,” Belle presses on, “Our deal never included barring all contact between me and my father, so I humbly suggest you hand over my letter and busy yourself elsewhere. I have a mountain of chores to do today and you’re putting me behind.”

Rumpelstiltskin is quite certain household staff isn’t meant to speak so boldly to their employers, but he’s too confounded by Belle’s argument to press the issue. He gives her the letter, glowers as deeply as he can in the radiant glow of her triumphant smile, and stalks away muttering, “One a month or I burn them all on sight.”

***

Rumpelstiltskin passes a quiet evening at his wheel when Belle enters and drops with a tired sigh into a chair by the fire. She watches the flickering flames for a few minutes before picking up the novel she keeps tucked between the cushion and the chair’s arm and removing the new letter she was using as a bookmark. She opens the letter and that’s when Rumpelstiltskin realizes how long he’s been tracking her every move. He turns back to his work, so he only hears Belle’s gasp.

“Rumpelstiltskin,” she calls, voice shaky and soft.

The day has come, he thinks, It’s bad news. She’ll ask to leave. And then what? “Yes?”

“It’s finally over.”

That draws his eyes to her. She’s sitting forward in her seat, letter hanging limp from her hands. Her entire face is possessed with a look of shocked joy.

“The war. It’s over. They say the ogres have retreated.” A laugh breaks through, “Can you believe it?”

Of course he can. He put enough of the chess pieces in place for this outcome. It’s not as if it changes anything, for him. Gives back what he lost. But Belle is practically vibrating with glee, so he smiles. “It’s lovely news, dearie.”

Belle lets out a happy cry and stands, striding in Rumpelstiltskin’s direction for a good three steps before remembering herself and stopping. Rumpelstiltskin carefully labels every ounce of disappointment as relief. Belle glances at the letter again. “There’s... something else.”

Rumpelstiltskin lifts an eyebrow.

Belle holds the letter in one hand while the other holds out a smaller envelope. Rumpelstiltskin steps from behind his wheel and takes it. It’s addressed to him, and bears Sir Maurice’s seal. He opens it, curiosity rising. “‘Sir Maurice respectfully requests the presence of Rumpelstiltskin... and his housekeeper... at a memorial feast and celebration to commemorate the cessation of hostilities between our kingdom and the ogre armies.’ I didn’t know your father knew such big words.”

Belle ignores the insult, saying, “Don’t answer now. Think about it. It’s not for two whole months yet. And, it’ll only be for a night. Just one, just to celebrate. Will you consider it?”

He looks at her, all clasped hands and huge pleading eyes. She truly hasn’t realized. He stopped saying no to her weeks ago. Nonetheless... “I shall consider it. I might have my own celebration to attend.”

“Of course,” Belle replies with a completely serious nod. Then she skips from the room.

***

Even the heavy, hooded, coal black cloak Belle wears can’t hide her obvious excitement as she settles into the carriage beside Rumpelstiltskin.

“One night, dearie,” he growls.

“One night, of course, exactly,” she absently parrots. It’s time to set the ground rules.

“Give me your hand.”

She holds her left hand out. Rumpelstiltskin takes it, and slides a band of two twined silver strands onto her ring finger. Instantly the magic stirs and there she is- a sunny spot in the back of his mind. He twists his matching band around his finger.

Belle lets out a small pained gasp. Rumpelstiltskin looks to see her hands grasping at her head, eyes squeezed shut.

“For security purposes only, dearie,” he informs her, “I’ll know where you are, and you’ll know where I am. I wouldn’t try taking it off, by the way. You might well lose the whole arm.”

Belle squints at him. “That’s you? You’re inside my head?”

Rumpelstiltskin feels a sting of awkward embarrassment. He really didn’t give this scheme a second thought, has already learned to ignore Belle’s presence in his mind. It might be a tad more difficult for Belle to ignore his. He reaches out to her, takes her cheeks in his hands, careful to keep his claws from nicking her skin. She looks at him, and he can see himself invisibly echoed through her eyes. It takes a moment’s concentration, but he manages to build some walls between her and the part of him squatting inside. “Better?”

“Yes,” she murmurs, some of the pain clearing from her face. He lets go, and she turns away, twisting the band around her finger. It’s not a very lively carriage ride.

***

They don’t make a fuss on arrival. Sir Maurice meets them down by the kitchens, where everyone is far too busy to notice even Rumpelstiltskin lurking among them. Belle throws herself into her father’s arms and he squeezes her tight. The part of her in Rumpelstiltskin’s mind practically bubbles over with a child’s adoration. After what seems a very long time, father and daughter separate.

“You are welcome, Rumpelstiltskin,” Sir Maurice says, “Thank you for coming.”

He performs the slightest of bows. “We shall stay the night, and no longer. A deal’s still a deal, war or no war. Forever is forever.”

Sir Maurice’s expression cools, but he manages to keep his smile, “Yes, of course.” He turns back to Belle, and the warmth flicks on again, “Well come along then, girl, the memorial service is starting any moment.”

“All right, lead the way,” Belle says. Sir Maurice steps into the kitchens with her trailing behind. She reaches back and grabs Rumpelstiltskin’s hand. “Follow me,” she calls over her shoulder. Rumpelstiltskin is yanked into the steamy, crowded chaos within, though it all seems somewhat indistinct while Belle’s work-roughened fingers curl around his.

They make their way through the castle and emerge in a courtyard that steadily fills with soberly dressed people. It’s not a terribly large or wealthy village that Sir Maurice governs. It seems the whole population manages to squeeze into the space, and Sir Maurice stands in their midst with nothing more than a noble bearing to denote his rank. Belle takes her place at his side, black hood pulled over her head. A pyre has been built in the center of the courtyard.

Sir Maurice addresses the crowd, “Today marks the passing of a dark cloud from over our heads. This war has taken so much, from so many. There isn’t a soul here who wouldn’t trade their lives for the return of our brave soldiers. That cannot be, but what can- what must be... is a new beginning.” He steps toward the pyre, and a man passes him a lit torch, “In this flame, we burn all our sorrow, and all our fear. We send to the gods all our thoughts of war, and the gods will send hope, and joy, and love, for all the years to come. This we pray.”

Those assembled bow their heads. Sir Maurice lays the torch on the pyre. It catches in seconds, burning a hot smoky orange. Sir Maurice steps back and wraps an arm around Belle. No one else speaks. There is only the crackle of the fire and the wind in the trees. Rumpelstiltskin watches the flames dance, trying to imagine his various pains consumed to cinders, leaving behind something new. He doesn’t quite manage it before the fire dies down.

Sir Maurice heaves a breath, and claps his hands together, “Very well then, enough of this mournful business, eh?”

The crowd’s heads lift, smiles creeping over their faces.

“I say, on to the feast! Everyone, to the great hall!”

Rumpelstiltskin starts at the almost deafening cheer that roars from the crowd. As one they flood into the castle. He notices for the first time that nearly every single person has a cup of some kind tied to their waist. Wooden cups, pewter cups, porcelain cups, even a glass cup or two- as long as it can be attached to a belt or a button hole, it thumps gently against someone’s hip.

But then that small rough hand steals back into his, “Rumpelstiltskin, come on, this way!”

They’re following Sir Maurice again, through a different door than the one currently struggling to admit the sea of people. Ahead of him Belle unties her cloak and hands it to a passing maid, revealing the dark green gown she wears beneath.

The great hall is cavernous, far bigger than the throne room they’d made their deal in. Four long tables take up much of the space, and in turn are occupied by trays and bowls of food and bottles of drink. A fifth table takes up the back wall- clearly meant to seat Sir Maurice, his daughter, the lower-ranking knights... and Rumpelstiltskin, apparently. And not shuffled off to the end either, but at Belle’s right hand. He feels as if he’s reaping the benefits of a trick he didn’t perform.

It takes several minutes for the whole bunch to make it into the hall and seat themselves. Then several more as everyone pours a drink into their cup or glass or bottle or flagon or stein or mug or... is that a gravy boat?

“Rumpelstiltskin,” Belle says.

“Ah, yes?”

“Try this.” She pours an amber liquid into a cup of his very own.

He picks it up and gives it a measuring swirl. Belle pours a cup for herself. “What is it?”

“Chouchen. It’s my favorite. I’ve been drinking it since I was thirteen.”

“Oh.” She taps her cup against his and lifts it to her lips. She smiles at him from around the rim as she takes one mouthful, and another, and another. Rumpelstiltskin would have a very difficult time imagining a more arresting sight than the shift of muscles under the rosy skin of her neck. She stops drinking with a laugh, “What’re you staring at me for? I said try some!”

Any other day he might rebuke her bossiness, but today he tries some of the chouchen. It’s sweet, tangy, and strong- like all the noon air of a midsummer day condensed into liquid. It’s astonishing.

Belle is still grinning at him, “Good, isn’t it? You can only get it here. Other places may try, but we have the best bees.” She preens a bit before refilling her cup. Rumpelstiltskin holds his out for more. That’s when he notices the eyes on him, glaring past Belle from the far end of the table. It seems Belle’s former betrothed has yet to find any amicable feelings for her current employer. Rumpelstiltskin smirks at Gaston, who turns his stormy pout away.

Sir Maurice stands, drawing every eye as he holds up his own rather elaborate flagon. “Now, we feast, until every plate is empty and every cask is dry!”

The crowd roars their approval, stomping feet and clapping hands and banging tableware.

Then Belle stands. Silence falls for the lord’s daughter. She holds up her cup, “We drink to our soldiers, both fallen and living. And we drink to Rumpelstiltskin!”

“TO RUMPELSTILTSKIN!” the crowd bellows. Belle grabs Rumpelstiltskin’s arm and pulls him to his feet. For the very first and almost definitely only time, a large group of people smiles at him, cheers for him, drains their cups in his honor. Utterly at a loss, he raises his cup. That gets more cheers. He drinks. That gets even more cheers. Finally Belle lets him sit.

She leans over to murmur in his ear, “Did I forget to mention you’re the man of the hour?”

“You don’t even know what I did,” he can’t help saying. She doesn’t, they don’t. It’s a dirty job, creating peace.

Belle only smiles, “You did something. And now people are alive who might’ve died without you. Take some credit, for the gods’ sake.”

It’s not that simple, he wants to say, not ever. But the chouchen is warming him from the inside out, and Belle’s smile is warming him from the outside in, and maybe he is due just a bit of gratitude. Maybe there can be one place in this world where his name won’t be as cursed as he is. That would be pleasant.

For the moment, Belle piles his plate with a mountain of food and seems to expect him to eat it all, so he sets to his task. He tends to keep his eyes down, as whenever he looks up someone is smiling at him from the crowd, which becomes a little unnerving. Usually he can make them stop by sharing another salute with his drink. Belle helpfully keeps his full. Her own too, actually. They finish the bottle before too long.

After an amount of food that almost makes Rumpelstiltskin’s leather creak, Sir Maurice waves a hand and the crowd stands. They lift their respective tables and carry them back, creating space in the middle of the hall. Some sit down to continue the feast while others stay standing, clapping their hands in a ragged rhythm. Rumpelstiltskin gets a foreboding feeling in his overstuffed gut. Sure enough, men carrying musical instruments march into the hall. He counts more than a few fiddles, drums, flutes, and mandolins in the company. He cringes in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of folk music, and that’s when he notices the empty chair on his left.

His fingers fly to the silver ring- ah, yes, there’s Belle. Her mind buzzes with happiness within Rumpelstiltskin’s as he watches her weave through the crowd. She passes pleasantries with various people, clapping along with them when she’s not clasping their hands or accepting warm embraces or sharing a drink. She’s every inch of her the gracious young lady of the village. Don’t her cheeks hurt from all that smiling?

The music kicks in, somewhat slow, but with a thumping beat riding beneath it. People walk onto the newly created dance floor, Belle among them. The melody picks up speed, becomes a near-wild babble of notes that nonetheless maintains a harmonious, joyful air. The dance reflects that- more enthusiastic than graceful, a whirl of spinning bodies and bouncing steps. If Rumpelstiltskin discovers his foot tapping along without his permission, well, he’s fairly sure no one else did. For extra assurance, he casts a quick glamour on himself. He becomes not invisible exactly, but much harder to notice.

As the music carries on and more chouchen finds its way down his throat, Rumpelstiltskin’s mind wanders back to the last time he danced. Not since his own wedding feast, it seems, when he was hardly more than a boy. He was certainly more innocent and naïve than Belle at the time. And how the times have changed... But no, the times haven’t changed, have they? Just him. People are still dancing, holding their celebrations. Getting married. This could’ve been Belle’s wedding feast.

He touches his ring- whether to end the pain or worsen it with the sight of her, he couldn’t say. His eyes dart among the crowd, but he doesn’t see her. He locates the part of her nestled in his mind, and feels a flash of fear. The sharp emotion lends more focus and he finds her. Being tugged toward a door by Gaston. Rumpelstiltskin is on his feet and following in an instant, keeping up the glamour though outrage and something not far removed from panic grips his heart. He’s five steps behind them when he reaches the door they passed through.

“- be miles from here,” Gaston is saying, “But we must hurry.”

Belle pulls against his grip on her wrist, “What are you saying, Gaston? Do you even hear yourself?”

“We don’t have time to argue, he could notice you’re gone any minute.”

That minute being the one just past, dearie, Rumpelstiltskin thinks venomously.

Belle’s face is crumpled in confusion, “Gone- I am not gone, I’m not going anywhere. Let go of me.”

Gaston fixes a look of utter disbelief on Belle, “But this is your chance! You’ll finally get away from him! You won’t have to live like a common housemaid cleaning up after a monster anymore.”

The confusion drops, replaced by flat annoyance. “Gaston, you are drunk. I’m drunk. Let’s just pretend this conversation never happened, and go back to the feast.”

She tries to turn away, but Gaston’s face darkens and his hand clenches tight, “Are you truly saying your freedom is less important than pleasing him? Have you managed to forget who he is?”

Belle turns back, stands firm and still, “I know who he is much better than you do.”

“He’s cast a spell on you,” Gaston says with the certainty of the truly ignorant, “He’s turned you into some slave to his every whim.” He pauses, reconsiders, “On the other hand, maybe you just like it that way. You gave up your freedom to him, I wonder what else you’ve given-”

She slaps Gaston across the face with the back of her left hand. Her ring leaves an angry red scratch on his cheekbone. He lets go of her wrist. She flexes her shaking hand as she leans in close, “I gave my word. That means something to me, even if it doesn’t to you. We are finished here.”

Belle straightens and begins to walk back to the hall. She stops one step past Rumpelstiltskin. She turns, and gives him a tiny smile. “Oh, there you are.”

Rumpelstiltskin lets the glamour drop. Gaston emits a brief choking sound. “Here I am.”

Belle’s smile grows. She glances in Gaston’s direction, then slides her arms around Rumpelstiltskin’s waist and shoulders. “Take me to bed, won’t you?” she purrs, chouchen-scented breath brushing hot over his ear.

Making this officially an evening of firsts, Rumpelstiltskin is glad for Gaston’s presence. Shooting another smirk at the scandalized knight allows him to disguise his true reaction. “In a wink, dearie,” he replies, voice cast as low and tempting as Belle’s.

She giggles in his arms, which at some point wrapped themselves around her waist. He lets go just enough so they can walk together down the corridor. Belle rests her head on his shoulder, even after they leave Gaston behind.

“Back to the feast then?” Rumpelstiltskin asks.

“No, I said bed.”

He blinks in surprise. She couldn’t have really meant...

“I’m exhausted,” Belle continues, “And we have a long carriage ride tomorrow. I’d like to get a good night’s sleep beforehand.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Of course. Is there anything more foolish than a man contending with a beautiful woman? Even knights and sorcerers come out looking like complete cretins. He’ll worry about all this later, he knows, at length. For now, he can only savor the perfect fit of Belle against his side as she leads him through the dim castle to her chambers.

They face each other at the door. Belle has yet another smile, just for him. “Well, that wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“I could’ve done without the belligerent ex-fiancé, personally.”

Belle rolls her eyes, “I’m sure he’s learned his lesson. In any case, we won’t have to see him again.”

Rumpelstiltskin is very certain of that. Let Gaston make another attempt to break Belle’s deal. He will pay for it. And yet, there’s a tiny twinge in Rumpelstiltskin’s chest that somehow makes him say, “You don’t regret turning down his offer of escape?”

Belle laughs, “Is that what it was? Sounded more to me like a swift method of suicide, considering how quickly you would have caught us.”

Rumpelstiltskin frowns. “I wouldn’t-” his words cut off. The thought of hurting Belle, in any way and for any reason, is at once too awful to voice and something he can’t admit he would never do. Not and keep even the barest tatters of the reputation she has so nearly stripped him of.

Perhaps the greatest threat to everything he knows smiles softly at him. She leans up and kisses his cheek. “I’m having breakfast with my father before we leave. All right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Good night, Rumpelstiltskin.” She opens her chamber door and slips inside, shutting it behind her.

He stands outside for a while. Helplessly imagining a different world, what might have happened had he been an ordinary man. It leaves him with a sour gut and a heavy mind. He trudges off to find his own accommodations.

***

Belle lingers over breakfast with Sir Maurice. Rumpelstiltskin makes himself scarce for the duration. When she emerges, her cloak is pulled up over her head, hiding her face. He winces, dreading tears at the fresh separation of father and daughter. The not terribly mysterious twinge in his chest hasn’t quite abated yet. But he hears no wet sniffling as they board the carriage.

He takes a stab at conversation. “I’m sure we’ll both be quite busy once-”

“Shh,” Belle hisses, reaching out a hand to cover his mouth.

Rumpelstiltskin ducks his head to peer into the darkness within the cloak’s hood. Belle’s cheeks are pallid, and her eyes squint at the slightest glimmer of light. He unleashes his most evil of grins. “A tad hungover, are we, dearie?” he declares.

Belle groans, clutching her head, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you...”

Rumpelstiltskin cackles all the way home.

Date: 2012-04-02 07:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imzadi-gumdrop.livejournal.com
Great story. Was waiting for Belle to say something about wedding rings shouldn't give headaches and Rum to make a joke about 'Clearly you've never been married' lol

A great story. Very believable. Love them sticking it to Gaston of course. Wondering why the rings weren't gold though. Would love to see a sequal of him finding out she still wears hers.

Date: 2012-04-03 01:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
*snort* Ye-eah, looks like I missed that opportunity.

Thanks very much! Ooh, maybe they should've been gold- perhaps gold from Rumpelstiltskin's wheel. Eh, anywho, yeah, those rings. There's potential there. Hm.

Date: 2012-04-03 01:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
love it love it. Can't wait for the next bit

Date: 2012-04-04 10:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
Thanks! Actually, I hadn't intended a second part, but [livejournal.com profile] imzadi_gumdrop has got me thinking about those rings...

Date: 2012-04-04 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
Oh, you must! ;)

Date: 2012-04-03 01:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
also belle's accent is so aussie the brew should have been four x, lol

Date: 2012-04-04 11:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
*snort* I love that OUaT lets actors use their natural accents (especially in RC's case but I digress), though it does bring up a lot of questions for me. If all these people have lived in Storybrooke their entire lives, what's with the accents? Does everyone assume Gold, and Moe French, and Grahame (RIP) have/had strangely specific speech impediments (such an inaccurate term)?

Date: 2012-04-04 11:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
I like to think of it like England - mancs and pikies and geordies all with distinc accents living in a reasonably small area. lol, headcanon of an aussie and scottish county

Date: 2012-04-04 11:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
But that just brings up more questions! How big is Storybrooke, really? As the opening narration clearly states the entire population of the FTW got transported- just how big a population are we talking? I'm gonna go ahead and guess it's bigger than your average small town in Maine. No one's noticed this at all ever? And every single person (except Gold I guess) has a custom-made backstory concurrent with our 21st century world? That is one helluva curse!

I guess, considering the backstories, the accents could be accounted for, that those characters came to Storybrooke from Australia, Scotland, etc. But I dunno, I'm pretty sure it's canon that they've all lived in Storybrooke forever and have never even thought of trying to leave.

Date: 2012-04-04 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
lol yes, it is confusing.

Date: 2012-04-04 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
*sigh* I probably think about this more than the show's writers ever intended.

Date: 2012-04-04 11:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] trickseybird.livejournal.com
haha yes, I was just trying to justify it more in my head: maybe the principalities are quite small in terms of population but large in terms of size, therefore accent diff could make sense, but fitting into a small town in Maine does too? :D? I also think about all the people needed to run a town, and their backstories, how many random peasants there are

Date: 2012-04-05 12:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lotus0kid.livejournal.com
There's gotta be some kind of.. well, for lack of a better word, mind-fuckery going on, to make everyone not notice that an entire world lives in one Maine town. Or! Something even creepier- that each person in Storybrooke is more than one FTL person. Maybe not Mary Margaret or Ruby, but Random Guy could be Random Peasant #457689, and #2367283, and #476594. That would be so messed up!

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