|Of Greasepaint and Flyers
Author: Bad Faery PM
Circus AU- Belle is a high-flyer with a partner who's tired of her just seeing him as a prop in her act. However, Belle has eyes only for the grumpy Scottish ringmaster, Mr. Gold.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Belle & Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold - Chapters: 2 - Words: 10,502 - Reviews: 70 - Favs: 107 - Follows: 64 - Updated: 07-01-12 - Published: 05-28-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8158874
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"No, Violet, not that way," Belle exclaimed in exasperation as the brown llama broke away from its five companions who were trotting neatly in a circle. Usually Violet was her star performer, but today the llama didn't seem particularly interested in rehearsing the act.
"I don't think they're ready for the center ring," a sardonic voice informed her in a strong Scottish accent.
"But they will be," Belle retorted, turning to smile at Mr. Gold as the rest of the llamas broke formation.
The ringmaster raised a disbelieving eyebrow and said doubtfully, "If you say so, dearie."
In truth Belle wasn't sure if the llamas would ever make a proper act. The beasts belonged to the petting farm held before each performance and had been bred for patience, not brains. Perhaps a skilled animal trainer could make something out of them, but Belle was a flyer. Even so, she had to try. She couldn't see herself still doing her aerial silk act when she was fifty; she needed something to fall back on. Even better, Gaston, the partner her father had hand-picked for her, had disliked the llamas ever since Ed spit at him shortly after Belle started their training, and he never came near her when she was working with them. Anything that inspired Gaston to keep his distance was fine with Belle.
She far preferred Mr. Gold's company. The ringmaster had a reputation for being a bastard to everyone, but he'd always been kind to Belle. Sarcastic, but kind, and she found his sense of humor hilarious instead of off-putting like everybody else did. Plus he kept his hands to himself, unlike Gaston who seemed to think that because he touched her body during their act that he was entitled to it offstage as well. Mr. Gold rarely even touched her arm, which Belle thought was a shame. She would have far preferred his attentions over Gaston's.
In the distance, she could see the main tent had been erected, and the action near it had slowed considerably, telling her that her time with her llamas was drawing to an end. "Are they wanting them for the petting farm?"
"I'm afraid so," Mr. Gold allowed, and Belle dealt out her farewell scratches and sugar cubes before climbing over the low fence to join Mr. Gold.
"Have you eaten yet?" she asked, hoping the answer would be no. Although she could never eat much prior to a show, she enjoyed sitting with him and listening to his wry observations about the rest of the performers.
He offered her his arm as they started back toward the train that was the center of their lives, leaning on his cane with his other hand to help him navigate the uneven ground. "I was hoping you'd join me," he told her, and Belle's stomach fluttered at the invitation. Usually she sought him out; it was rare for him to come to her, and she hoped it meant he was ready to take their tentative not-really-a-relationship to the next level.
"Belle!" As soon as they reached the mess car, Gaston dashed her hopes by standing and gesturing to an empty seat beside him, "I saved a seat for you."
Mr. Gold's grip on her tightened for a moment, then he released her, pushing her slightly in Gaston's direction, "You'd best go, dearie," he told her in a careful monotone.
Belle wanted to protest, but he was wearing his stoic face, the one that let no emotion in or out and she knew it would be futile. "I'll see you before the show," she said softly, leaving his side to take her place next to Gaston.
"You're welcome," her partner told her smugly as she sat down beside him.
"For what?" she asked, picking at a salad, performance nerves already starting to kick in.
"Saving you from Gold. The old bastard's always sniffing around you." Gaston swiped one of her cherry tomatoes, and Belle hoped he'd choke on it. Her father- the Great Maurice, one of the most celebrated trapeze artists of his day- had been tremendously put out when circuses started requiring their trapeze acts to use nets. No audience, he claimed, could get truly invested in an act that used a net. The sense of danger was key. Therefore, although he'd trained his daughter on trapeze, the bulk of Belle's training had concentrated on the aerial silk act he'd developed for her. It was just her and two long pieces of fabric holding her off the ground as she spun and twisted and all but floated in the air. She'd loved it until he got the idea to incorporate his protege.
"Silks are always solo acts, but the two of you in the same rig will get a reaction," he'd promised, and they had. For a viewer there was something sensual about Belle's life bring in Gaston's hands, only his grip on her keeping her safe from gravity. The audiences loved it. Belle had far preferred her solo act, but it had earned them a place in the Mills Family Circus, the most prestigious accomplishment for any flyer. And it had introduced her to Mr. Gold, its long-time ringmaster.
At first Belle had been won over by his sheer talent. Mr. Gold might be a bastard backstage, but when he was in front of an audience, he was all warmth and charm, his brogue guiding them through the sometimes overwhelming action with sly humor. He was the rock the entire show was built on, and he never let them down. No one had ever seen him break character, not when the tent collapsed, not when one of Ruby's tigers escaped the cage, not when Mary Margaret fell from her high-wire. He could make the most dire situation sound like the merest bump in the road to an audience, letting nothing spoil their enjoyment of the show even if he read the guilty parties the riot act offstage. So far, Belle had been spared from any displays of his temper, and she wanted to keep it that way. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint him.
It hadn't taken long for her to notice how his smile- the one no one but her ever seemed to see- transformed his face. Then she'd realized just how flattering the leather trousers he wore in his guise as ringmaster were, and Belle had been lost. Gaston might have been more traditionally handsome, but Gaston didn't make her laugh.
Belle blinked, realizing she'd completely forgotten she was even sitting with Gaston and attempted to contribute to the conversation. "He does not sniff around me," she protested.
"Oh, come off it, Belle. He's always watching you," Gaston snorted, swiping another tomato and apparently not noticing the pleased flush that spread over Belle's face at the thought of him watching her.
She was distracted enough that even the necessity of dodging Gaston's attempt to kiss her as she left to go back to her room didn't bother her too much. Her room on the train was roughly the size of her walk-in closet at her father's house, but Belle appreciated the privacy. Although she liked the other performers, sometimes it felt good to be on her own so she could daydream in private. She was just thinking about what could have happened had Gaston not interrupted her lunch plans with Mr. Gold when she heard a knock at her door, and Ruby stuck her head in. "You ready? We have to be in costume in half an hour."
"I'm coming, Ruby," she agreed, pulling the door shut behind her as the two girls headed for the prep tent sent up just behind the big top out of the audience's sight. Once she was sure they were alone, Belle risked a question, "Do you think Mr. Gold watches me?"
"He's the ringmaster; he watches everybody," Ruby said carelessly, and Belle did her best not to let her disappointment show as she struggled into the spangled little dress she wore for the opening parade. After applying her makeup and pulling her curls into an updo secured with glittering combs, she still had five minutes to spare so she snuck backstage, hoping to see how the crowd looked before they began.
Mr Gold was already there, and she hung back a moment, admiring his slim figure in his leather trousers and the heavily rhinestoned tailcoat that would look ridiculous on anyone else. "How's the house?"
He turned to her with a small smile, and Belle wondered if it was her imagination that his gaze lingered on her body a bit longer than necessary. "Three-quarters full, but feisty," he answered. "How was your lunch?"
Feeling daring, Belle said cheekily, "The company could have been better."
His small smile grew a little wider at that, and Belle caught her breath when he suggested, "Should we try again for dinner?"
"I'd like that," she beamed, and he leaned a little closer. She lifted her face, hoping he'd kiss her, then she heard Ruby calling her name, and they quickly stepped apart, "I'd better not keep Malcolm waiting."
"Anything but a jealous elephant," he agreed, and she could feel his eyes on her as she ran off to take her place on Malcolm's back, the elephant snuffling at her happily as she patted him.
Although Belle only featured in the silk act she shared with Gaston, she had plenty to do over the course of the show. In a Mills Family show, there was never a moment dancing girls weren't appropriate, so she spent most of the first half watching from the wings and providing entertainment during the breaks as the crew quickly reset the ring. In truth, she spent most of the show with her eyes closed listening to Mr. Gold's smooth narration until she needed to enter.
She made an exception when Leroy, one of the clowns, joined her to watch the trapeze act, his attention riveted to the little brunette known for her triple somersault. "She's incredible, isn't she?" he breathed as Mr. Gold called for quiet in the house.
Belle smiled, watching him watch Astrid with something like worship. "She's single," she prompted.
Leroy blushed beneath his greasepaint. "I'm twice her age."
"Age doesn't matter," she assured him, blushing a little herself, "Trust me."
Leroy shot her a look out of the corner of his eye but didn't ask, and they watched the rest of the act in silence. Once it ended, he chased her out onto the floor, the pair of them frolicking with the other clowns and dancers as she pretended to teach him the steps, and he messed them up in the most destructive way possible, making the strike of the trapeze net into just another part of the show. Once it was down, she chased him off, catching Mr. Gold's eye as she ran past him, unable to suppress her bright smile. She couldn't help it. The man just made her happy.
Her own act came in the middle of the second half, and her stomach knotted in anticipation as she joined Gaston behind the curtain, smoothing imaginary wrinkles out of the costume comprised mostly of blue and white sequins and illusion netting. Under the lights she looked like she was clad merely in swirls of glittering paint, and she knew the effect was striking. However, there was only one pair of eyes she wished to capture, and they certainly didn't belong to Gaston.
He was introducing them even as she thought about him. "It is my honor to present the gravity-defying Gaston and the ethereal Belle." His brogue caressed her name, turned it into something magical, and the butterflies fled as she stepped into the lights to take her place in the center ring, Gaston ascending the silks first, she following a moment after.
Afterward she could never remember anything concrete about the act, just the slip of silk and scent of resin as she twisted and spiraled, Gaston's hands holding her safe from gravity and letting her fly. In those moments it didn't matter who he was; he was her partner and together they made audiences gasp and cheer. When her feet were on the ground again, he would once more be an annoyance, but up here they were two of a kind.
The good will lasted until they were backstage and he tried to kiss her again. She elbowed him in the gut and ran off to change for the finale, ignoring his unrepentant words, "You wouldn't respect me if I quit trying!"
"No, but I might like you better," she muttered to herself, dodging Emma who was preparing for the final act of the night. She and her husband Graham had the Sphere of Destiny in which they rode motorcycles inside a large steel sphere in defiance of the laws of physics while their ten year old son Henry stood inside, completely unprotected by anything but his parents' skill. It invariably brought down the house, and Henry was already begging for a bike of his own. Belle hoped that would come later, rather than sooner. She and Ruby had money on the issue, and if they waited until his was twelve, she'd be fifty dollars richer.
Another spangled dress replaced her performance costume, this one in gold, and she'd never forgotten the look on Mr. Gold's face the first time he saw her in it. That had been the moment that taught her to hope her crush on him wasn't as one-sided as she'd thought. After that, she was back up on Malcolm, waving to the cheering crowd as pyro detonated above them all, and Mr. Gold bade everyone a good afternoon, encouraging them to come back again.
Belle had exactly enough time to change back into her first dress and grab a snack before the second show started, and they did it all over again, smiles as fresh as if they didn't play the same show twice a day every day.
After the second show, she took her time in the shower, washing off the thick makeup and glitter that turned her into The Ethereal Belle and went back to being just plain Belle French. She pulled on a casual sundress and twisted her wet hair into a knot at the back of her neck, hoping Mr. Gold wouldn't be disappointed by her less than put together look. When he wasn't in his performance attire, she'd never seen him in anything other than a suit, no matter the weather.
His approving smile when he met her outside the dining car put paid to her worries, and he held up a bag, raising his eyebrows. "I thought we could avoid interlopers this time."
Her heart beat faster, and she nodded wordlessly. He hadn't liked being interrupted by Gaston. He wanted her to himself. Belle winged a quick prayer heavenward, thankful that they seemed to be on the same page and followed him off the train, wincing as he struggled a bit with the bag and his cane on the narrow steps. "I could carry that," she offered, but he waved her off.
"While I'm well aware you could no doubt bench-press me, let me at least pretend to be useful," he said acerbically, and Belle flushed, looking down at herself. It was true that there was little womanly softness to her. The physicality of her act had taken care of that long ago. There was nothing to her but muscle, and she wished she'd grabbed a cardigan to at least hide her arms.
They made their way to the main tent in silence and sat down in the bleachers, the work lights doing little to set a romantic mood or, really, any mood at all. She kept her hands behind her back as he set up their picnic before an idea struck her and she unbound her hair, arranging the dark locks to hang in front of her as camouflage. "Belle," he said softly, and she glanced up, realizing he'd finished his task and was watching her fidget, "I… misspoke."
She jumped as he reached out to touch her hair, pushing it behind her shoulders. "True beauty lies in strength, not weakness," he told her, holding her gaze, "I didn't mean to imply otherwise."
"Thank you," she whispered, wondering if that meant he found her beautiful. He still had hold of her hair, she realized, his arm halfway around her.
As she gazed up at him, he leaned closer until they were breathing the same air. "Tell me if I'm imagining things," he said urgently, his accent thicker than she'd ever heard it. "Tell me that you don't-"
"I do," she breathed, and something almost feral glittered in his dark eyes before his hands cradled her face and his mouth came down on hers searchingly. Belle sighed against his mouth, covering his hands with hers to hold them in place, marveling at how good his kiss felt. Mr. Gold's lips were firm and warm and just the tiniest bit rough, like he was struggling to be gentle and couldn't quite manage it. His teeth tugged on her bottom lip, and Belle gasped. When she did that, Mr. Gold froze, then his arms were around her, crushing her against his chest as he slid his tongue into her mouth, kissing her with an absorbed hunger that brought tears to her eyes.
The kiss could have lasted minutes or hours. Belle lost all concept of time, conscious only of how soft his hair was as she tangled her fingers in it, how good he tasted when he finally ceased his exploration of her mouth long enough to let her return the favor. Even when they both had to breathe, he didn't release her, keeping her pressed against him, his forehead resting against hers as he placed tiny sipping kisses against her lips every few moments like he couldn't bear to stop.
"I'm so much older than you," he said at last, not drawing away from her.
"I don't care," Belle whispered, tugging on his hair to pull him in for another kiss.
"You deserve better," he whispered against her lips.
"I want you," she retorted, then he was kissing her again, muffling a low moan against her mouth that had Belle pressing even closer until she was all but on his lap, holding him fiercely. He wanted this as much as she did, maybe even more, and it was a heady thought.
He kissed her breathless, then pulled her against him until her head was resting on his shoulder and he could bury his face in her hair, his hands moving restlessly over her back like he couldn't quite believe she was real. "I was afraid to hope that you might…" he trailed off, pressing a kiss to her hair.
Belle giggled against his throat, feeling his pulse leap beneath her lips. "Really? I thought I was being so obvious, always following you around."
"You'll find I'm a bit of a coward, dearie," he told her, sliding his fingers into her hair to pull her head back for another kiss. "I was afraid you were just being kind to an old monster."
"Not so old," Belle assured him when he released her lips, "And not a monster."
They simply held each other for long moments after that, Mr. Gold looking happier than she'd ever seen him. "Dinner's going to be cold," he said reluctantly, and Belle felt momentarily bereft as he let her go. The feeling fled when he handed her her container of food and she saw he'd brought her the salmon dish that was her favorite in either a lucky guess or proof that he'd been paying enough attention to her to know her preferences. From the faint flush high on his cheekbones, she rather thought it was the latter.
They ate in companionable silence, hands brushing frequently for the sheer pleasure of being allowed to touch. He offered her a bite of his chicken off his own fork, watching intently as her mouth closed over it, and the gesture was almost more intimate than the kissing they'd done.
He took her arm as they made their way back to the train, and Belle beamed up senselessly at the stars overhead, unable to believe how much things had changed over the last hours. Mr. Gold returned her feelings, and all was right with her world.
"Your partner won't be pleased," he said quietly.
"He's my partner, not my lover. He doesn't get a say," she assured him, hoping he didn't think she was involved with Gaston. Almost immediately, she dismissed the thought; if he thought she was with Gaston, he never would have kissed her.
"Good," he said roughly, walking her to her room and ignoring the curious looks they attracted. At her door, he lowered his head to kiss her sweetly, staking his claim in no uncertain terms. Gossip traveled fast in the circus. Within the hour, everyone would know that the ringmaster had been seen kissing her, and Belle didn't mind in the slightest. "Are you working with your llamas tomorrow morning?"
She nodded, rubbing her nose against his and loving the way his smile made his eyes crinkle. "Care for company?"
"Only if it's yours," she answered, gasping when he kissed her again, harder this time. His arm was tight around her waist, holding her against him and letting her feel how much she was affecting him. Her eyes widened, and his mouth twisted ruefully.
"I'll bid you good night." He turned without another word, leaning harder on his cane than usual as he left to find his own room, leaving Belle staring after him longingly, wishing she'd invited him in. It was far too soon for that; they weren't ready, but she missed him already.
She had only moments to herself, before Ruby exploded into her room, her face alight with curiosity. "How long has this been going on, and why didn't you tell me?" she demanded, throwing herself down on the narrow bed next to Belle, landing half on top of her friend.
Laughing at Ruby's enthusiasm, Belle mimed looking at a watch she wasn't wearing. "It's been going on for about two hours, and I obviously didn't need to tell you."
"Not if he's going to kiss you right in front of everyone, you didn't. Gold? Really?" Ruby's nose wrinkled with disbelief.
"I really like him," Belle confessed, smiling foolishly up at the ceiling at the memory of his mouth on hers, "And I think he likes me too."
"Uh, yeah. I've never seen him even touch a girl, and he's kissing you in the middle of the train? He's crazy about you." Ruby nudged her side, giggling a little in disbelief before sobering, "Does Gaston know?"
Belle sighed, "If he doesn't, he will in about five minutes. But I didn't tell him."
"Do you think you should?" Ruby suggested, "He's your partner, and you know he's got a thing for you."
"I know I should," Belle admitted, "Just… not tonight." She didn't want to deal with Gaston tonight. She just wanted to lie here and think back on the evening, trying to commit every second of it to memory so she never forgot one detail of what she hoped would be the first of many, many kisses she shared with Mr. Gold.
"All right, all right, " Ruby hugged her and got off the bed, chiding from the door, "Try to get some sleep though. We still have shows tomorrow whether you're in love or not!"
Belle closed her eyes, indulging in memories of the evening and reflecting on what Ruby had said. Was she in love? Yes, she supposed she was. Nothing made her happier than spending time with Mr. Gold whether he was touching her or not. Even if he never kissed her again, she'd still want to be with him. The thought thrilled her as she tried to imagine a future for them. They'd be married, and perhaps her llama act would be ready to go by the time the children came. She'd let them apprentice with any act they wanted; she wouldn't force them to be flyers, but she'd train them if they wanted to learn…
She dozed off with visions of those children with his messy brown hair and her blue eyes dancing in her head, and when she awoke, she was half-afraid the entire previous night had been a dream. She dressed quickly, grabbing a quick breakfast from the dining car and ducking around a corner when she heard Gaston's voice in the distance. Relieved to have avoided him, she made her way to the llama pen, her heart quickening its pace when she saw Mr. Gold clad in one of his usual impeccable suits already there watching the beasts.
"Good morning," she said, her voice husky, and he turned to her at once, his face lighting with a smile as he held his arm out to draw her close and kiss her. "I was afraid I dreamt it," she confessed shyly as she snuggled into his embrace.
He chuckled into her hair. "As long as you didn't think it was a nightmare," he teased, tilting her face up for a proper kiss that left her breathless.
Belle could have spent the entire day in his arms, but the llamas wouldn't train themselves, so she pulled away reluctantly, climbing into the pen. Things seemed to go better this day despite her distraction, and he made a few useful suggestions from his position on the other side of the fence. "Why llamas?" he asked as they neared the end of the training session.
"No one else was doing anything with them," she responded, feeding Delia a sugar cube when the white llama pranced on command.
"You're a flyer," he elaborated, "Why llamas?"
"I can't fly forever," she explained, "I want children someday, and even if that never happens, I'll get old eventually. I saw how unhappy my dad was once he was grounded. I wanted a backup plan. So… llamas."
"You want children?" he breathed, eyes riveted to her. His gaze drew her in, and Belle stepped closer without realizing she'd meant to, registering how still he suddenly was. Had she said too much? Perhaps he had no desire for children. Yet, he didn't look unhappy.
"Yeah. Do… do you?" she asked, holding her breath as she waited for his reply.
Mr. Gold nodded wordlessly, his eyes never leaving hers, and Belle reached out blindly to him, his hand finding hers and squeezing. He'd thought about it too, she realized. He'd imagined what their children might look like just as she had.
Before she could say anything, she felt a rush of breath and something tugged on her hair. "Violet!" she scolded, pulling her hand out of his to push the llama away from where it was taking an interest in eating her hair. Mr. Gold laughed, looking younger than she'd ever seen him look, and she shot him a smile as she finished the session.
They walked back to the train hand in hand, their shoulders brushing with each step, and Belle couldn't remember ever feeling happier, not even when she finally mastered a trick that had been eluding her. They took their lunch together, Belle pretending she didn't see Gaston when he tried to wave her over. She was being immature, but she couldn't bring herself to leave Mr. Gold's side, and from the hold he had on her hand, he was no more interested in being separated than she was.
They finally had to part when it came time to dress for the show, parting with a lingering kiss that made Belle's toes curl. She quickly got into costume, ignoring Ruby's knowing smirk as she ran backstage to rejoin him. "How's the house?"
"Small and quiet. We'll have to wake them up," he answered, his eyes darkening with pleasure at the sight of her. "You look beautiful."
She slid her arms beneath the heavy rhinestoned tailcoat to embrace him, letting her hands wander lower to brush over his ass in those tight leather trousers. "I've been wanting to do that for ages," she admitted with a smirk when he gasped and yanked her closer.
"You're killing me, Belle," he growled, burying his face against her throat to nip at her skin, his breath hot and coming fast.
After a long moment, he reluctantly set her aside, and Belle obediently kept her hands to herself as he said, "Much as I'd like nothing more than to let you keep winding me up, I'm not going to make it through the show if you don't stop."
Thrilling at the power she seemed to have over him, she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and stepped away, just enjoying his company as they waited for the opening fanfare. "Give Malcolm my best," he told her when they heard it, and she sprinted off to clamber onto her elephant as she heard his voice begin the opening spiel. "Ladies and gentleman, children of all ages…"
The show went off without a hitch, the small crowd proving surprisingly vocal once things started. Belle went through her paces with an unfeigned smile which brightened every time she caught Mr. Gold's eyes as she darted past him.
She delayed meeting Gaston backstage for their act as long as possible, ignoring his quizzical look as she heard Mr. Gold's voice huskily stroke her name as he introduced them. "Belle-" Gaston started.
"Later," she promised, feeling guilty for ignoring him all day. Unwanted advances or not, he was still her partner. "I promise we'll talk later."
They ran out, all smiles, like nothing at all was strained between them, and the act began. It wasn't until he had her dangling over the floor that she realized he wasn't willing to wait.
"What's going on with you and Gold?" Gaston asked as he tightened his grin on her wrists to lift her higher.
"You want to talk about this now?" Belle hissed, keeping her smile firmly in place.
She extended her leg, her abdomen aching at the strain of holding herself in place, then she slid her foot up his body to press it into his hand as he released her wrists, letting her swing upside down to gasps from the audience. "You keep dodging me. Are you screwing him?"
"No," she snapped, arching her back to draw herself back up as Gaston let them slide lower in the silks, teasing that they were about to fall before swinging her above him. Belle wrapped her leg in the silk and posed, stretching her arms out gracefully above her head.
"But you want to," Gaston said gloomily, "What about us? Your dad wants us to get married."
They switched places, Gaston wrapping himself in the silk so that no loose ends dangled, letting Belle slide past him until only his hand on her foot was keeping her from plummeting to the ground. "There isn't an us. There never was; we're just partners. I can see Mr. Gold if I want to."
"Dammit, Belle," he growled as she reached up, her fingers brushing his for a moment before she shifted into another pose. "That's not-"
He swung her over, releasing her foot as he did in order to catch her wrist, a move they'd done a hundred thousand times. Belle had just enough time to realize that this time it felt wrong when his fingers glanced off her wrist, missing the catch, and suddenly she was falling, falling.
She heard a Scottish accent roaring her name, then the ground hit her hard, and she heard nothing more