|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|
Her head hurt.
That was the first thing Belle was aware of, then she woke up a little more and realized that the rest of her hurt too. A heartbeat later she realized that she was supposed to be doing her act, and she started violently, wondering if she'd somehow fallen asleep backstage.
Strong hands caught her shoulders, holding her down, and she struggled against them, blinking rapidly as she tried to figure out what was happening.
"Hush, love, hush. Lie still. You'll hurt yourself," a Scottish accent was crooning to her, and she relaxed as her vision came into focus, revealing Mr. Gold's face inches from her own. He looked dreadful.
The ringmaster was always impeccably groomed, but at the moment his eyes were bloodshot, his jaw covered in stubble and his hair a disheveled mess like he'd been raking his hands through it. The man looked like he hadn't slept in a week, and that worried her.
"What's wrong?" she rasped, her throat dry.
He laughed a little at her question, his mouth trembling like he wanted to cry. "Nothing now, love. Nothing at all."
With shaking hands he picked up a glass of water and held the straw for her so she could drink, taking it away after only a few sips. "Slowly," he admonished, and Belle glanced around, realizing for the first time that she was in the medical car. Memory came rushing back at that, and her head reeled. "I fell!" She never fell- never- not since she was a child not quite strong enough to support her own weight.
Mr. Gold's jaw tightened as he replaced the glass on the table next to her. "You were dropped."
"Gaston..." she winced, the events of the show unfolding before her eyes. "We were arguing. Oh, he must feel awful." Take care of your partner. It was the lesson beaten into every performer's head from day one. No matter what happened, you took care of your partner, even at your own expense. When someone's life was in your hands, there was no other option. To drop her was a betrayal of everything Gaston believed. He'd be devastated.
"Not as bad as he's going to feel," Mr. Gold growled, and the darkness in his voice worried her. Before she could say anything, Ruby poked her head around the partition, her eyes lighting up when she saw that Belle was awake.
"I thought I heard voices," she said, relief clear in her tone. Turning her head, she called to someone else in the car, "Archie, she's awake!"
The ginger-haired medic joined them immediately, a warm smile on his face for her. "How are you feeling, Belle?"
"I hurt," she admitted, only now looking down to take stock of her injuries and realizing her right arm was completely immobilized.
"I bet you do," Ruby commiserated, shoving herself into the small space as well, and looking down at Mr. Gold. "All right, you, she's awake. Now make yourself useful and go find her something to eat while Archie looks her over."
Belle's jaw dropped at her friend's tone. Ruby had always held the ringmaster somewhat in awe, but now she was bossing him around like a child. Mr. Gold stared up at her resentfully, but she didn't budge. "And get yourself something that isn't coffee!"
Studiously ignoring Ruby, he turned to her. "Love, will you-?"
"I'll be fine," she assured him, reaching out with her good hand to squeeze his.
With the air of someone walking to the gallows, Mr. Gold left the three of them alone, pausing to shoot her a last worried look before disappearing around the partition. It was only then that she noticed he was still in his performance attire, although he'd abandoned the tailcoat somewhere.
"How did you do it, Belle?" Ruby asked her as soon as he was gone, helping her sit up so Archie could check her over.
"Fall?" Belle asked, feeling a little dazed, not sure what her friend was talking about, "Gravity did most of the work."
"Not that, you ninny! Gold! You broke Gold!" With brisk fingers, Ruby unbuttoned the nightshirt she was wearing, one of Belle's own, and Archie did his best to keep the fabric arranged to preserve her modesty as he checked the taping around her ribs and the dressings on her shoulder and arm.
Ruby's words captured her full attention, "What? What happened?"
"You know he never breaks character, right? No matter what? Well, he did for you." Belle hissed as Archie pressed a hand against her ribs, breathing on command for him as Ruby waved her hands in agitation.
"He broke character?" she asked in disbelief.
"Screamed your name like he was dying and left his position. He got to you before the medics did. I don't know how with that cane. Wouldn't leave your side. Sidney had to finish the show and do the evening one." The bandleader had been eying Mr. Gold's job for years, and he'd be insufferable if what Ruby was saying was true. Which it couldn't be.
"He's been here the whole time?" she said numbly, unable to credit it. Since she'd joined the circus, she couldn't remember Mr. Gold ever missing a show, and now Ruby was claiming he'd missed one and part of another because of her.
"We couldn't pry him away from you with a crowbar," Ruby deadpanned as Archie did her buttons back up, looking satisfied. "He wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, just stared at you like he was afraid you were going to disappear. I don't care if you've only been dating for thirty-six hours, that man loves you."
Belle's eyes welled with tears at Ruby's words, and Archie cleared his throat, saying mildly, "Could we possibly discuss this later?"
"Feelings are important, Archie," Ruby scolded.
"Yes, and so is Belle's health," he reproved, and she planted a quick kiss on Belle's forehead before leaving the two of them alone. Sitting down in the chair Mr. Gold had vacated, Archie patted her knee. "You were very, very lucky."
Belle nodded and wished she hadn't, some of the pain coming back without Ruby's tale to distract her. She'd fallen twenty feet straight down onto earth and sawdust; Belle considered herself lucky to be alive. "How bad is it though?"
"You cracked three ribs because you landed mostly on your right side. As you fell, you put your arm up to protect your head, so you only have a mild concussion." Archie made a face, "There's no such thing as a good concussion, but it could be a lot worse. Of course, that means your arm took the brunt of the damage."
It just had to be her dominant arm, Belle reflected, looking down at herself. Archie continued, "You dislocated both your elbow and your shoulder and snapped your humerus. I set everything, and you'll heal, but it'll never be as strong as it was."
Ambivalent as she was about her act and her partner, the thought of being grounded sent a cold shiver through Belle. She loved the slide of the silks, the gasps she elicited from the audience. Although she knew one day she'd give it up, she wasn't ready for that day to come so soon. "Am I grounded?" she managed.
"Permanently? No," Archie said with no hesitation, and she heaved a sigh of relief that made her cracked ribs ache. "For the foreseeable future? Yes."
"I'll take it," she murmured, trying to concentrate on the 'not permanent' part of her injury instead of how grindingly unpleasant the next few weeks were likely to be with an immobilized arm.
A muffled commotion stole her attention from Archie, then she heard Ruby demanding, "Was that really necessary?"
"Yes," Mr. Gold's voice snapped, then the man himself came around the partition, fraught eyes immediately going to her before the line of his shoulders relaxed slightly. Archie vacated the chair beside Belle so Gold could retake his place beside her, Ruby following a few steps behind him with a tray in her hands, looking both irritated and amused.
"What happened?" Belle asked, looking between them as her friend placed the tray on the table by the bed.
"Nothing to worry about, dearie," Mr. Gold assured her, voice smooth, and he sounded more like his old self even if he still looked a mess.
Eyes narrowed suspiciously, Belle ignored his injunction. "Ruby?"
"There's no way I'm getting in the middle of this," her friend said emphatically, grabbing Archie by the front of his shirt, "Come on, let's leave the lovebirds alone. You can give me a checkup."
"Ruby!" he sputtered, face turning as red as his hair, and Belle couldn't suppress her snicker as her friend dragged the medic away, leaving her alone with Mr. Gold.
"What happened?" she asked again, and he ignored her, picking up one of the two bowls on the tray to display its contents: oatmeal garnished with blackberries. Otherwise, the tray held a plate of toast with jam and a glass of orange juice.
"A bit bland, but you've got so many narcotics in your system right now, I thought it best to play things safe," he told her, apparently realizing that there was no way she'd be able to juggle both the bowl and the spoon with her bad arm. Dipping the spoon into the oatmeal, he held it to her lips.
"What happened?" she repeated for the third time, making an indignant noise as he thrust the spoon into her mouth.
As she chewed and swallowed, Mr. Gold sat back, his eyes slightly narrowed. "Your partner wished to see you. I... dissuaded him." With a shrug, he helped himself to a bite of oatmeal off the same spoon.
"What did you do to Gaston?" Belle demanded.
Mr. Gold smirked, looking down at his cane and running his thumb over the handle. Sighing, Belle took another bite when he offered it to her, trying to think of what to say. She spent half her life wanting to hit Gaston with something, but she couldn't muster any real anger at him now. They'd both been stupid, and an accident had been the result. He shouldn't have started the conversation when he did, but she should have told him what was happening with Mr. Gold sooner. Neither and both of them were at fault. "That wasn't nice," she said finally, "He probably wanted to apologize."
"As well he should, since you're here because he dropped you," Mr. Gold all but snarled. "You'll have to forgive me for not being nice to the man who nearly killed you."
She watched him take a deep breath, obviously trying to calm himself as he fed her another bite of oatmeal and took one for himself. "It was an accident," Belle tried to reassure him, "Flyers fall. You know that."
"Yes, I know that. You think I can think about anything else when you're up there? Two stories high with no net?" His hands were shaking, and he put the bowl down abruptly, clutching the handle of his cane in a white-knuckled grip to still them. "No more. Please, Belle."
She put her hand over his and squeezed. If he didn't want to talk about it any more now, they wouldn't, but they'd have to speak about this eventually. She'd had no idea he worried so about her. "All right."
He looked up at her sharply, his eyes intent on her face. "Really? No more flying?"
That was what he'd been asking? Belle sucked in a breath, stomach twisting at the request. "Oh. Oh, that's not what I thought you meant."
"Belle-" He caught her hand in his, holding on tightly, and she didn't know what to say. She wasn't ready to be grounded, but she wasn't willing to hurt him either, not when he looked so upset.
"Let me think about it, okay?" she said finally, stalling for time. With a crooked smile, she reminded him, "I certainly won't be flying for awhile."
He looked no happier, but he eventually released her hand, and they went back to their breakfast, now slightly cold. Belle made a point of keeping the talk light from that point on, and he went along with her although something dark still lurked in his eyes.
Once they'd finished, he rearranged the empty dishes on the tray and said hesitantly, "Hopper says you're free to go if you're feeling up to walking. I'd like it if... will you stay with me?"
That was a ridiculously big step for a couple that had started dating less than two days ago, yet Belle couldn't bring herself to care. He'd certainly proven himself, and she was no more eager to be separated from him than he seemed to be willing to be parted from her. "I'd like that."
He left her shortly thereafter with a soft kiss and a smile that made him look years younger, and Belle sank back against her pillows, feeling tired and sore and happy for all that. Her arm throbbed, and she had a huge decision to make, but she also had something she'd wanted for ages: proof that Mr. Gold felt as strongly about her as she did about him.
"Belle?" A male voice drew her out of her contemplation, and she found a smile for her partner as he nervously stuck his head around the partition. Seeing her alone, he stepped inside, hovering nervously near the bed as he stared at the floor. "I'm so sorry."
There were tears in his eyes as well as a livid bruise on his neck that Belle was reasonably sure she knew the cause of. She held her good hand out to him, and he seized it, sitting down next to her on the bed. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm an idiot."
"You are, kind of," she answered, squeezing his hand affectionately, "But I am too. It was an accident. I forgive you."
He shook his head, rejecting the words. "I never should have done that. Not up there. I know better."
"And I should have talked to you earlier. We both screwed up." Her father would have both their heads on a platter once he found out about this. He'd trained them to know better. "Let's chalk it up to temporary stupidity and make sure it never happens again."
Gaston nodded, clinging to her hand with both of his until he got himself back under control. "How's your neck?" she asked, the rippling of his throat as he swallowed hard calling her attention to the bruise.
He took one hand off hers and rubbed it. "Your... uh... boyfriend is surprisingly strong when he's pissed off."
"I'm sorry." Although she didn't condone what Mr. Gold had done, she couldn't help but feel a bit responsible.
"I deserved it," Gaston sighed, then he sat up a little straighter, saying with false cheer, "So, you and Gold... it's serious then?"
"I love him," Belle replied, and perhaps it was wrong to tell Gaston before she told Mr. Gold himself, but she'd avoided telling him anything for so long that it almost seemed fair.
He nodded miserably. "Okay. I'll respect that."
"Gaston," Belle sighed as she voiced a theory she'd long held, "You wouldn't have looked twice at me if Dad didn't want us to be together. You can stop trying to please him."
Gaston had been a struggling teenage street performer when Moe French took an interest in him. He'd made the boy his protege, and Gaston had repaid him by desperately trying to please him in every way possible. He'd adopted Moe's opinions as his own, and when the older man pushed him at Belle, he'd gone willingly. Belle wondered if he himself was even aware of the dynamic. She did know that it wasn't love. If it was, he would have respected her often-voiced desire not to be groped.
"I've never looked at anybody but you." That was certainly true. Her partner was like a dog with a bone when he had an idea, and he thought he was supposed to be with her. No other girl had ever stood a chance.
"Maybe you should," she suggested. Gaston was handsome and sweet in his own way. He wasn't bright, but there were plenty of women to whom that wouldn't matter. "Just don't make a play for Ruby. Or Astrid."
"How bad is it?" he changed the subject, nodding at her arm.
"Bad," she admitted, "But not permanent. I could use a vacation."
"If you need anything..." he trailed off, and she squeezed his hand.
"I'll let you know." She should find something for him to do for her, let him channel his guilty energy into something constructive. For now, though, he had something else to worry about. "Now go figure out your act since you don't have me to carry you."
He gave her an indignant look that quickly dissolved into laughter as he realized she was trying to needle him and left her in peace. Belle hadn't realized how bad she felt about the situation with Gaston until it was resolved, but now she felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. They should have had this talk years ago, but maybe they hadn't been ready for it.
Her next visitors were Ruby and Archie again, who came to walk her to Mr. Gold's room, Ruby tossing a robe over her shoulders for modesty even though her nightshirt revealed considerably less than her performance attire. Just another quirk of the circus, she thought.
The man himself was there to greet her as was most of her clothing, her books, and her stuffed manatee, courtesy of Ruby she assumed, but she was too busy looking around the room to really notice. "Wow." While she had a closet-sized space to herself as did the rest of the performers, Mr. Gold had half a train car as his domain and a private bathroom. Even if she hadn't loved him, Belle would have moved in.
He chuckled at her reaction, "Authority has its privileges. I think you'll be comfortable here."
"Marry him," Ruby hissed in her ear, and Belle sputtered a laugh.
The three of them had just enough time to get her arranged comfortably before having to leave to prepare for the afternoon show, leaving her on the bed with a book in her hand. Belle glanced around curiously. Before this if someone had asked her to make a guess, she would have assumed Mr. Gold's room would be as spare and elegant as he was, but the man appeared to be a bit of a pack-rat. She could see everything from an old-fashioned clock to what appeared to be a genii's lamp and everything in between. If she could get him to tell her the stories behind each piece, her convalescence would be considering less dull than she'd expected, and her own belongings seemed to fit comfortably in with the cheerful clutter.
To her surprise, Belle had a steady stream of guests who popped in and out during the show to offer her get well wishes. No one had time to chat, but the sincerity was obvious, and it warmed her heart. It felt strange not to be part of the nervous activity that happened behind the scenes, but at least she felt like she was still part of the family.
Her best visitor came after the evening performance when Mr. Gold returned to the room with a mischievous smile on his face. "Up for some company?"
"Sure," she answered, leaning to try to look behind him. Instead, he went to the window and slid it open, and Belle crowed with laughter when a gray trunk appeared. "Malcolm!"
She clambered off the bed to greet her friend, the elephant snuffling at her thoroughly as if checking to be certain she was still all there. Leaning as far out the window as she could, she scratched between his eyes, not sure how well he could actually feel the touch but pleased that he seemed to appreciate seeing her. From the ground, Ruby waved up at her as she supervised the visit.
Eventually Malcolm lost interest in Belle and started to explore Mr. Gold's possessions with his trunk, and Ruby escorted him away. "I brought us dinner."
They curled up on the bed as he fed her off his own fork, planting soft, chaste kisses on her lips every few bites. "I could get used to this kind of service," Belle teased him, and his eyes warmed.
"I could get used to having you here," he replied, and her stomach fluttered.
Mr. Gold was a private man, and she'd been concerned he'd find having her in his personal space intrusive, especially since she could do so little for herself. Instead, he was the model of attentiveness, seeming to take particular pleasure in brushing her hair for her, although it was Ruby who helped her with bathing and dressing. "Seriously, marry him," her friend advised her again a few days later as she was helping her out of the shower.
"You just love him for his bathroom," Belle scolded.
"How many times have we had to get Charlotte's hair out of the drains?" Ruby asked, reminding her of the mess their friend constantly made with her six feet of blond hair, so necessary for her suspension act but so unmanageable otherwise. "I can't think of a better reason to love him!"
"I can," Belle smiled softly. His tenderness, his thoughtfulness, his biting humor, all of those were far better reasons to love Mr. Gold than anything material he could offer her.
When he wasn't performing he was with her, and Belle glowed under his gentle attention. He'd even taken to helping her with the llamas after Violet decided to punish Belle for not visiting for three days by attempting to eat her sling. He didn't seem to have much more of an idea of what to do with the animals than she did, but it felt good just to have him there. He stayed by her side, held her at night like she was made of spun glass, and that more than anything told her how very much she'd frightened him by falling. He was careful with no one else, but his every look at her told her just how much she mattered to him.
Although she'd been afraid she'd be bored without performing to occupy her, Belle found herself busier than ever as she recuperated. There were books to read, llamas to train, and Mr. Gold's belongings to shamelessly snoop through with the reward of another story from his long career with the circus for her efforts. Through his possessions, she learned of his childhood in Glasgow, his failed efforts to make it as an actor on the West End, his short-lived marriage, and his adventures in over twenty-five years as a ringmaster. The stories ranged from the grotesque and bizarre to the hilarious and heart-warming, and with every one Belle fell more in love with him.
For his part, he was making a genuine effort to get along with her friends. He and Ruby had an ongoing war of words that both seemed to thoroughly enjoy, and he'd even restrained himself from growling at Gaston whenever they ran into her partner. It was with Jefferson, however, that the most progress had been made.
The first time he'd seen her working with the juggler, he'd gone into a sulk that had lasted a week before Belle had finally managed to pry some answers out of him- answers that had included words like "jealous" and "younger" and "better-looking"- and she'd done her best to kiss his insecurities away. Eight weeks later she could clumsily juggle either two balls or two clubs with her left hand; she was making great strides as a contact juggler, and Mr. Gold could have an actual conversation with the eccentric man without hanging onto her like he was afraid she was going to try to escape.
If it wasn't for the decision hanging over her head, Belle could honestly say she'd never been happier. She'd been back in the ring as soon as her casts and wrappings had come off, and simply absorbing the energy of the crowd as she danced or rode Malcolm had done wonders for her. It wasn't until Archie cleared her to fly again, twelve weeks after the accident, that reality set back in.
Mr. Gold wanted her feet on the ground where it was safe; Gaston wanted his partner back, and Belle didn't know what she wanted. She'd been training like she expected to resume the act, and although she was as physically prepared as she could be, mentally she felt like she was anything but.
She'd had the crew set up her rig over the trapeze act's net after the evening show and woke well before dawn after a restless night's sleep to try it out. It would be just her, the silks, and the net, and she couldn't deny that the thought exhilarated her.
"You don't have to come," she assured Mr. Gold who gathered up his cane, not bothering to change out of his pajama pants and t-shirt. Belle had been utterly charmed the first time she saw him in his sleeping attire, and even after three months of the sight, it still made her heart flutter.
"I think I do, dearie," he told her, dark eyes serious, and Belle didn't argue further as they made their way to the main tent.
Once there, she stripped to her leotard and resined her hands, taking a moment to just run the silks through her fingers, re-acclimating herself to the touch. Then she started to climb.
Yes, the silks seemed to whisper as she let herself spin and slide. Yes, we'll hold you. Yes, we'll protect you. Yes, you are ours. Belle closed her eyes and let the silks cradle her, gravity unable to touch her here. It wasn't quite right, wasn't effortless. Her arm couldn't support her weight the way it always had; there was a catch in her shoulder that distracted her when she just wanted to lose herself, but she was flying. She was free.
When she began to tire, she slid to the ground, surprised when the net caught her. For a moment, she'd forgotten it was there. Taking hold of the edge, she rolled forward and dropped to the ground beside Mr. Gold who was watching her with something like worship. "You look so beautiful."
She was drenched in sweat, her body aching like it hadn't since she was first training, but up there she had felt beautiful. She'd felt powerful and magical and right. "I know what you asked, but... I can't. Not yet."
He pulled her closer, ignoring her disheveled state. "I should have known." His mouth found hers in a lingering kiss, and she could taste his concern on his lips.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, threading her fingers through his hair as he wrapped his arms around her, letting himself lean on her instead of his cane. Belle liked the feeling; he'd been taking such good care of her for the past months that she enjoyed being able to return the favor.
Affectionately, he nudged his nose against her cheek. "I shouldn't have asked. It's part of you, isn't it?"
She'd never thought about it that way, but he was right. Flying had been part of her since she was able to walk. If asked to describe herself, it would be the first word she used. She couldn't let it go yet. "It is," she admitted, "It always will be. But it won't always be the biggest part."
Other words stood ready to define her now: elephant wrangler, llama trainer, juggler, wife, mother. All those things were in her future; she didn't need to look into one of Jefferson's crystal balls to know that. Mr. Gold had made his intentions clear from their first date even if he hadn't proposed yet.
"I promise not to worry, if you promise not to fall," he murmured, not quite succeeding in keeping his voice steady.
"Deal," Belle whispered back, brushing her lips against his to seal it. "It's not forever though. It's just for now."
He stepped back, taking her hand and leading her out of the tent. "If I can share you with an elephant and your llamas, I can share you with the silks for a little longer." She nudged against him, careful not to throw him off balance. For all that they'd raced into this relationship, it felt good to slow down a little. There was no need to rush through this; they could savor the slow build.
"I share you with the entire circus," she teased. "It seems only fair."
Behind the train, the sun was just starting to rise, and to Belle it felt like a omen. This was their beginning, and they had time for stories and friendships and llamas who didn't know how to behave. They had time for everything.