|Don't Feed the Plants
Author: Bad Faery PM
Little Shop of Horrors AU- Nothing in Storybrooke ever changed until the day Belle found the plant.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Belle & Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold - Words: 6,751 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 4 - Published: 10-30-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8656596
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
When they'd had that sudden, strange total eclipse of the sun on the day that the mayor's son almost died, Belle had been wildly hopeful that this was a sign that things in Storybrooke were finally going to change. She'd hoped that she'd finally get the break she hoped for: a job or a scholarship somewhere that wasn't quite so green and dull, but after the period of darkness passed, everything immediately went back into the same holding pattern. She had her books, her father's flower shop, the dubious pleasure of Greg Ashton's attention, meals at Granny's and nothing else.
Belle didn't know what she'd do to get out of Storybrooke, but she knew she'd do a hell of a lot. She longed for an apartment in the big city- lights, culture, and adventure- but no one ever responded to her applications, and she didn't have the money to simply leave without already having something waiting for her. Although she tried to remain positive, with each passing day it seemed less likely that she'd ever manage to make her dream come true.
Only one thing had changed. She had the plant now.
Once the excitement of the eclipse had faded, she'd gone back to work putting the latest shipment away when she'd spotted it stuck in among the zinnias. "Dad, what's this?"
It was an odd-looking thing. The leaves were yellowed and wilted and unimpressive, but the head was rounded and almost podlike. More than anything, it looked like some kind of bizarre flytrap. Belle had never seen anything like it.
"It must have gotten mixed in with the shipment," her father shrugged it off.
"Should I put a price on it?" she offered, examining it more closely.
He shook his head. "It looks half-dead. We'll never sell it. Just toss it in the trash."
"Can I keep it?" she asked, hating the thought of simply throwing it away. It was interesting, and not much in Storybrooke was interesting. The plant was a misfit, just like her, and she felt a sudden kinship with it.
"Do whatever you want," he dismissed, getting back to work, "Anything that'll get your nose out of a book is fine with me. You should go out with that Ashton boy. He'd be good for you."
Childishly, she stuck her tongue out at his back as he headed onto the shop floor. Moe French had never approved of how much she read. He'd barely finished high school himself and had little patience for book learning. Belle had even less patience for Greg Ashton, who was far too aware of his own attractiveness, which he thought meant he was entitled to anything he wanted. For the time being, he wanted Belle, and no matter how many times she said no, he kept coming back.
"I'm going to make some deliveries, watch the shop," he called, and she grumbled to herself, bringing her new plant with her as she went to man the register. For all the hours she spent there, it would be nice to get a paycheck. Maybe then she'd be able to set enough money aside to leave Storybrooke. Then again, she thought ruefully, that was probably exactly why her father didn't pay her. If she left, there'd be no one to do the books.
"Miss French," Mr. Gold greeted her as he entered the shop only minutes after her father left, a wilted philodendron in his hands. "I seem to need your assistance again."
"You overwatered it," she diagnosed, barely bothering to look. Mr. Gold visited the shop at least once a month with a half-dead plant in hand. No matter how much she tried to simplify the care instructions, the pawnbroker had a positively black thumb. She'd hoped he'd do better with the water-loving philodendron, but clearly the experiment had been a failure.
"It looked dry," he defended weakly as she took the plant out of his hands.
"You always think they look dry. Plants like soil, not mud," she scolded. Mr. Gold's reputation had preceded him, and Belle had been wary of him at first, but it was hard to be in awe of a man who wore such a sheepish expression every time he was caught attempting to commit planticide. She far preferred his company to Greg's, that much was certain.
"If you watch the shop for a second, I'll go get your dwarfpalm. I got it perked up again." Saving Mr. Gold's plants was the closest she ever got to excitement, and Belle enjoyed the challenge.
He acquiesced and she jogged up the stairs to the apartment over the shop, retrieving the dwarfpalm from her bedroom. She always kept Mr. Gold's recuperating plants in her room, although she'd never really thought about why.
"You're a miracle worker, Miss French," he praised as she handed him the plant to replace the philodendron.
"I'm going to have to be," she sighed, then an idea struck her. Mr. Gold dealt in oddities; perhaps he'd be familiar with her new challenge. "What do you make of this?"
She held up the plant, and he bent over it with an intent look on his face. "Some kind of flytrap?" he suggested after he'd taken a good look. "I've never seen anything like it before. Wherever did you get it?"
Belle placed the pot back on the counter and rang up Mr. Gold's sale. Really, it was more of a rental than anything. He'd be back with it in a month for her to fix. "It came with today's shipment. I didn't notice it until after the eclipse. It's certainly strange."
"And interesting." He looked a little troubled by her mention of the eclipse, but he said nothing more, simply thanked her, paid, and left.
That had been several weeks ago, and Belle hadn't had much luck with her new plant since then. Mr. Gold's philodendron was doing beautifully, and it would be ready to switch out when he brought the dwarfpalm back. The flytrap, however, still looked half dead.
None of the botanical books she'd gone through had a matching entry, and an internet search had yielded nothing. As far as Belle could tell, her little plant was one of a kind. While the thought that she might have made a discovery was exciting, it meant she was on her own to figure out how to care for it, and nothing was working.
She'd tried it at every light level, and although it seemed to like southern exposure best, it wasn't thriving. She'd tried levels of moisture from desert to mud, grow lights, mineral supplements, and insects in hopes of appealing to its hunger, and it remained stubbornly wilted.
In desperation, she flipped through the last book in her collection, searching for an answer. "I've tried everything," she said to the plant, "What do you want from me? Blood? Ow!"
She hissed as the edge of the page sliced into her finger, leaving a deep paper-cut. Irritated, she popped the finger into her mouth to clean it when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye.
The plant was looking at her.
It was insane. Plants didn't look at people, but Belle couldn't shake the feeling that her plant was. Cautiously, she moved closer, wondering if she was losing her mind, when the plant moved.
She jumped back with a yelp as the pod lifted, and it was definitely looking at her. Digging her fingernails into her forearm, she waited to wake up, but nothing changed. Her plant was looking at her.
"Hi?" she offered, hoping the plant wouldn't reply. The fact that it moved was bad enough.
As she watched, the pod slowly opened, the lobes parting to reveal an orange interior. "Are you hungry?" she asked. This was the first time the plant had expressed an interest in anything, and she glanced around for what might have triggered its hunger. There was nothing unusual in her bedroom that she could see, no insects for it to eat. Everything was as it always was except-
With a feeling of dread, Belle extended her bleeding finger toward the plant, and the pod opened wider, seeming to strain toward the glistening droplets. "Okay," she breathed, trying not to be sick. Venus flytraps ate insects. Blood was a natural progression. Wincing, she held her finger over the gaping pod and squeezed a few drops into it, gasping when it suddenly snapped shut.
Although she watched intently, nothing happened, and she heaved a sigh of relief. At least she hadn't killed the thing. Wrapping a bandage around her finger, she crawled into bed, abandoning her botanical guide in favor of a novel. After that weirdness, she deserved a break.
The next morning she was tempted to dismiss it as a surreal dream, but when she swung her legs out of bed and looked at her plant, she nearly screamed. It had all but doubled in size overnight, and its leaves were a vivid green and shining with health. Blood was the key. Her plant lived on blood.
This was not normal, and her first instinct was to heave the thing into the trash and pretend that this had never happened, but another thought soon crossed her mind. Belle had never heard of anything like this. There was a chance that she'd discovered something new, and that discovery might just be enough to get her out of Storybrooke.
The promise of leaving Storybrooke was enough to keep her going for the next several weeks as her plant continued to grow, demanding food at more regular intervals. In an effort to spare her fingers, she tried using raw meat and animal blood, but the plant didn't cooperate, the pod gaping at her until the substitution simply fell out. Clearly, it had to be human blood, and she had a band-aid on every finger by now.
"Miss French, what have you been doing to yourself?" Mr. Gold actually sounded concerned when he brought in the dying dwarfpalm.
Belle had shared her discovery with no one else, but she suddenly had the sense that she could trust Mr. Gold. Unusual things were his specialty. "Can I show you something?"
"Of course, my dear," he agreed, looking a bit startled when she flipped the flower shop's sign to "Closed" and started leading him upstairs. Her father was out on a delivery run, so he wouldn't be there to give her hell about having a man in her bedroom like she was sixteen and not twenty-six.
Mr. Gold's jaw actually dropped when she led him into her bedroom, but the shocked expression faded once he caught sight of the plant that now dominated an entire corner of the room. "That's... grown a bit."
"I found out what it eats," she admitted, and at his quizzical look, she held up her bandaged fingers.
"Blood," he said numbly, "The plant lives on blood."
"It was all right at first," she hastened to assure him, "It only wanted a few drops, and it seemed to help so much, but now it's getting bigger, and... and..."
"You can't keep up with the supply," he stated. It wasn't really a question, but Belle nodded anyway.
"I've tried other things, but it will only eat human blood."
"But will it only eat yours?" Mr. Gold withdrew a pocket knife from his jacket and nicked his index finger, holding it above the plant which immediately opened for him. "No. Just human will do."
"I'm sure you taste good," Belle told him, blushing scarlet when she realized what she'd said. "That's not what I-"
"Don't feed it any more," he instructed abruptly. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Miserably, she followed him back downstairs. Her clumsy flirting had put him off and possibly cost her one of the few friends she had. Cross with herself, she slumped behind the counter and tried to lose herself in a book, barely greeting her father when he returned and headed up to the apartment.
"My God, Belle!" She jumped at the shout, closing her eyes in dismay when she realized she'd left her bedroom door open. Moe French had seen her plant. She darted up the stairs to see him straining to drag the plant out of her room. "This is incredible! Why didn't you tell me it had grown so much? We have to put it on display; it'll be a great selling point. Here, help me carry it."
Feeling like she was being dragged behind a speeding car, Belle helped her father maneuver the plant down the stairs and into the shop, positioning it proudly in the window.
From that moment on the shop had a steady stream of customers, all eager to get a look at Belle's discovery, which her father promptly claimed the credit for, naming it the Dionaea Moepula or Moe II for short. They were making money hand over fist, and she wondered if she'd be able to claim a cut of the profits if she promised to let her father tell everyone it was his. Surely there was enough here for her to live on in Boston until she was able to find work.
When she hesitantly broached the subject, Moe shook his head, "Don't be ridiculous. I need you here, Belle. You've got the magic touch!"
Magic she might be, but Belle had never felt more trapped now that her one possible escape route had been closed off. She'd be in Storybrooke forever doing her father's bidding and trying to fend off Greg Ashton.
"I think he should have called it Belle II," Greg told her the next day when they were alone in the shop, some of the town's interest in the plant already dying away. He was leaning far too close, his hand moving to stroke her hip until she smacked it away. He grinned at her, unrepentant. "That thing looks like it could swallow a cat. What can you swallow, Belle?"
"You're disgusting," she snapped, shoving him away and retreating to the security of the counter.
"When are you going to stop playing hard to get?" he whined, his charming smile flickering as he struggled to maintain it.
"When you stop harassing me," she retorted, stepping back as he leaned closer until he was suddenly brought up short.
Startled, Belle looked to see Mr. Gold's cane hooked over his shoulder and leaned to look around Greg to see Mr. Gold himself. "I believe the young lady has work to do," he said evenly, but his eyes were icy, "Perhaps you should let her do it."
"I'll see you later, Belle," Greg told her, the words sounding like a threat, and then he was gone, leaving her alone with Mr. Gold.
"Thank you," she breathed, sighing as she leaned against the counter.
"I didn't mean to interrupt a lovers' tiff," he informed her stiffly.
Belle rolled her eyes. "Not hardly. Greg is not my type."
At that, Mr. Gold seemed to brighten. "Oh? And what is your type, Miss French?"
No one had ever asked her that before, and the words came spilling out of her mouth before she had time to think about them, "I want a man with layers and depth. Someone I can talk to every day and still be surprised by. Someone intelligent and mature. Someone who listens when I talk."
Mr. Gold seemed to be hanging on her every word. After she ran out of steam, he swallowed hard and said, "And tall, dark, and handsome, of course."
She shook her head. "Looks don't matter. I want someone who'll love all of me, not just my looks or my body. If I find him... I don't care if he has claws and scales."
At her bold statement, Mr. Gold looked like she'd struck him. "Belle..." he said faintly, the first time he'd ever said her given name. He leaned harder on his cane, moving closer to her, and Belle had the strangest notion that he was about to kiss her.
She was just leaning in, her lips slightly parted, when she heard something thunk against the counter, and the spell was broken. Looking down, she saw he had a small plastic cooler in his other hand. "What's that?"
"A gift of sorts. For your plant." Mr. Gold placed the cooler on the counter and opened it.
Belle's stomach turned as she saw the bags of blood filling it. Still, it was better than using her own. "How did you-?"
"I own most of the town," he reminded her, "That includes the hospital."
At least he'd taken the bags from a blood bank instead of draining it himself from some unlucky stranger, she thought randomly, fighting the urge to giggle. "Thank you, Mr. Gold."
"My pleasure, Miss French." They were apparently back on a last name basis, and she stifled her sigh.
"How's your dwarfpalm?" she asked, wanting to prolong the encounter. Maybe if she kept him talking long enough, they'd get their moment back.
"It's looked better," he admitted ruefully. "I'm sure I'll be bringing it in shortly for your expert care."
"Just don't water it so much," she chided, and she relished the smile she got in return even as he turned to leave. She needed to find somewhere to keep the blood where her father wouldn't see it.
With the blood bags she could feed the plant more often without having to wait for herself to heal, and it was growing at an exponential rate. Within two weeks it had outgrown their largest pot, and Moe finally had to raid a construction company to find something large enough for it to grow into.
Grow it did. In another six weeks, the plant dominated the small shop, filling nearly half of it, the top of the pod just brushing against the ceiling. It was eating three bags of blood a day, wilting when it didn't get them, and her father looked so murderous whenever it faded that she didn't dare skip a meal.
Mr. Gold kept replenishing her supply, giving the plant concerned glances every time he set foot in the shop. In truth, Belle was concerned too, but it wasn't like the plant was doing anything. It just kept growing. And drinking blood. While it was unsavory, she couldn't see any real harm, and she hugged the hope close that someday someone outside of Storybrooke would be curious enough to come look at it. If they did, anything could happen after that. She'd sent letters and pictures to every famous gardener and botanist she knew of, but as of yet she'd gotten no response.
On the other hand, Greg came to look at it every day, usually with a lewd comment at the ready if he managed to catch her alone, Mr. Gold's rebuke having done little to dissuade him. Belle kept brushing him off, staring fixedly at her book until he gave up and went away, but tonight he seemed particularly determined, cheerfully ignoring her reminder that it was past closing time.
"Come on, Belle. This has gone on long enough." When she continued to pay attention to her book instead of him, Greg plucked it out of her hand and flung it across the room where it hit the plant with a thunk, a few of the pages flying out.
"Dammit, Greg!" she snapped, slamming her hand down on the counter for emphasis, "Get out."
"Ooo, the kitten has claws!" he sniggered, grabbing her wrist and pulling, trying to force her to lean over the counter.
Before Belle could say anything else, a thud caught her attention and she looked up in horror to see the plant keeled over, the pod resting against the floor.
"Shit," Greg mumbled, releasing her wrist. "I didn't kill it, did I?"
The plant certainly looked pathetic, but as Belle watched, the pod slowly gaped open, demanding food. She sighed in relief. It wasn't dead, just hungry, and as soon as Greg left, she'd be able to fix things. "Cool," Greg exclaimed, stepping closer. "I didn't know it opened up. What's in there?"
He leaned over the open pod, and she had the sudden image of someone sticking his head into a lion's mouth. Disquieted by the idea, she started, "I think you should-"
The pod slammed closed.
Belle shrieked in surprise, hearing Greg's roar from inside the plant. Inside the plant, he was inside the plant. Heart pounding, she darted around the counter reaching to grab the edge of the pod to force it open when the plant suddenly straightened back up, Greg's legs flailing in empty air as it lifted him off the ground and shook like a dog playing with a toy. "Let him go!" she yelled, jumping in an effort to catch his foot and missing by at least two feet.
The pod lifted higher, almost vertical now, and Greg's legs slipped fully inside, the plant making an audible gulping sound. Belle's knees gave out, and she sat down hard on the floor, whimpering. The plant heaved for a moment then went still, standing tall and proud just like always, and to her eyes, it looked smug.
"Greg?" she called softly, waiting to hear any reply from the plant, but no masculine voice answered her.
Belle scrambled backward until her back was pressed against the wall, but the plant made no move to threaten her, and she realized she couldn't just sit here. She had to tell someone- the sheriff perhaps.
Lunging for the phone, she actually dialed the first few numbers for the sheriff's office before reality caught up. She couldn't tell Sheriff Swan that her plant had eaten Greg. The woman would never believe her. She'd think Belle was responsible for his disappearance.
Slowly, she replaced the receiver, then another thought crossed her mind. Raising the phone to her ear, she dialed and waited. "Mr. Gold? It's Belle. Uh... The plant ate Greg Ashton."
On the other end of the line, Mr. Gold didn't make a sound, then his calm voice said, "I"ll be right there. Don't go near it."
She held onto the phone long after he'd hung up on her, needing the connection. It wasn't until she saw him limp through the flower shop's door that she finally managed to hang up.
"You say it ate Ashton?" he asked, staring at the plant critically from what she hoped was a safe distance.
She nodded jerkily. "It fell over and opened up. He... he bent over to look inside, and it... it... Oh my God!" Covering her face with her hands, Belle tried to choke back tears. This was all her fault. She'd found the plant and nursed it back to health. If it wasn't for her, none of this would ever have happened.
"Now, dearie," Mr. Gold's arm went around her, "He's not worth your tears."
"But it's my fault!" she wailed, turning to burrow into his embrace. Mr. Gold held himself stiffly for a moment, then he wrapped both arms around her, pulling her close as she sobbed against his shoulder, no doubt ruining his expensive suit.
"Hush now. Hush, Belle," he murmured, gently patting her back. "It was an accident. You didn't know this would happen."
"I knew it ate blood! I shouldn't have fed it. I just wanted... I wanted..." She trailed off, clinging tighter until her face was hidden against his neck.
"What did you want, love?" he asked, and even in her overwrought state, the endearment still registered. Mr. Gold had called her 'love.'
Taking deep breaths, Belle tried to calm herself. "I just wanted a way out," she admitted. "I thought that if I could get someone interested in the plant, I'd be able to find a way to get out of Storybrooke." And now her selfishness had gotten someone killed.
For a long moment he just held her, then Mr. Gold gently set her away from him. "And is leaving so important to you?" he asked, something dark and intense burning in his eyes.
"It was," she said, her stomach fluttering at the look he was giving her. "I didn't think there was anything for me here."
"And now?" he pressed, voice rough.
"Now... Now I hope there's someone," she said, not giving herself a chance to think it over.
Before she could draw another breath she was back in Mr. Gold's arms, and his mouth was on hers, kissing her urgently. With a sigh, she smoothed her palms over his back, feeling fine wool and warmth and a faint trembling. He wanted this as much as she did, had perhaps thought about it just as often.
"Oh, Mr. Gold," she breathed when their lips parted, and to her surprise he snorted with laughter.
"Anthony," he corrected, his eyes crinkling at her with affection.
"Anthony," she repeated, and he gave a smothered gasp, his lips coming down on hers again.
"Do you have any idea how long I've waited to hear you say my name?" he demanded as their lips parted. "How many plants I've all but killed just to have an excuse to talk to you?"
That explained a lot. "Why not just tell me? Ask me to lunch or to get a drink?" How many plants had suffered because they were both too shy to admit their feelings?
"I'm a cripple and old enough to be your father," he bit out, his shoulders tensing, "You can do so much better, Belle."
"Tough shit, I want you," she shot back, yanking him down into another kiss, this time taking control herself and plundering his mouth. Mr. Gold- Anthony- tasted of tea and whiskey and something faintly smoldering, and nothing had ever been as intoxicating as his mouth.
"Then I'm your man," he promised, looking a bit dazed.
She beamed, "I liked it better when you called me love."
"Yes, love," he breathed, brushing another reverent kiss against her lips. "If you want to leave Storybrooke, we'll leave tonight," he offered.
"Really?" In a matter of minutes, Belle had gone from fearing herself trapped forever in a suffocating provincial life to suddenly having everything she'd ever wanted handed to her. For a moment her heart leapt until she remembered the plant.
"Anything you want," Anthony told her, following her gaze as she turned to look suspiciously at the plant.
"What about that?" she whispered, wondering if it could hear them. "What about Greg?"
"If it had to eat somebody, Ashton isn't much of a loss," he said dryly, and Belle hated herself for agreeing with him.
"We have to tell someone. Somebody will be looking for him," she pointed out.
"Who's going to believe us?" he asked, and she sighed. No one would.
"If we leave tonight, people will think we killed him," she thought out loud.
"If you'd prefer to stay until his disappearance blows over..." he began, his shoulders slumping a little when she nodded. "Then we'll stay."
"Maybe it's for the best," she tried to reassure him as she cradled his jaw, loving that she had the right to do that now. "We can get to know each other a little better."
He turned his face into her palm and kissed it, his voice a bit muffled as he suggested, "If you want to get away from here... I've plenty of room, love."
"You mean move in with you?" she asked in disbelief. Belle didn't know anyone who'd ever set foot inside Mr. Gold's beautiful pink home, and she'd always been curious about it. Now he was offering to let her live there.
"I have guest rooms," he said quickly, eyes fraught with worry, and his nervousness did wonders to calm her own nerves. Leaning up, she brushed a gentle kiss to his lips.
"I'd love to," she assured him, and a genuine smile broke out over his face. It was the first time Belle had ever seen such a sight, and she beamed back before reality intruded again. "We can't just leave it here. What if it hurts someone else?"
Anthony nodded. "You're the expert, love. How do we kill it?"
Her job was to keep plants alive, not do the opposite, but in this case, it was unavoidable. Moe II was a threat to anyone who got too close. They had to kill it. "Weed killer. The strong stuff."
He looked around the small shop. "Where do you keep it?"
If only it was that easy. "We're a florist shop. That's not really what we do."
"The pharmacy's still open. Clark should have something," he muttered. Catching her by her shoulders, he suggested, "Why don't you go and pack your things, love? I'll be back in a few minutes, and we'll take care of this, then we'll leave."
"Sounds good," she smiled, leaning up for one last kiss before tearing up the stairs, grateful that her father was at the bar, drinking to his success. It didn't take long to pack up all her worldly possessions, and she dashed off a quick note for Moe before carrying the two bags back down to the shop to wait for Mr. Gold's- Anthony's- return.
The pod was lying on the floor again.
Belle winced at the sight, giving the plant a wide berth. "You just ate," she reminded it, bile rising in her throat as she remembered how it swallowed Greg. As she moved past it, she kept her back flush against the wall, keeping as much distance between herself and the plant as she could as the pod slowly started to gape open. "Oh no. Not again. Not ever again."
Moving quickly, she made her way to the door to watch for Anthony and make certain that no one else stumbled in on a quest for late-night 'forgive me' flowers. The plant had killed once, and it would not kill again, not on her watch. A quick glance inside the pod showed no sign of Greg, and she sighed. She'd had no real hope that he'd survived the encounter, but it would have solved a plethora of problems if he had.
Belle returned her attention to the window, straining her eyes to catch sight of Anthony, when something wrapped itself around her ankle. Yelping in surprise, she kicked out, her eyes going wide as she saw the vine snaking around her leg. "No!" she exclaimed, bending down to yank it off when two more vines caught her wrists, dragging her towards the gaping pod.
"Let me go!" she shouted, fighting against a grasp that felt like steel. Belle tried to plant her feet, but her shoes slipped on the smooth linoleum, giving her no purchase as the plant pulled her closer and closer, the pod opening wider. "I fed you!" she reminded it, realizing that if it could hear, it would also be aware of her plans to douse it with weed killer.
"Help!" she screamed, praying that someone would hear her. "Anthony! Anybody! Help!"
The only sound was the squeak of her shoes on the slick floor and her own ragged breathing as she struggled for freedom, humidity engulfing her as the plant pulled her closer yet. She was too frightened even to scream when she felt the plant tipping her off her feet forward into the pod which suddenly closed around her, a thousand tendrils pulling at her as she kicked her feet desperately, trying not to let herself slide any deeper.
"Get off of her!" a voice bellowed, and strong hands caught her ankles, pulling against the plant's grip on her as the tendrils tore at her hands and hair, determined to pull her in. "Belle, hold on!"
There was nothing to hold on to, and she sobbed as the hands released her. She heard a grunt, and suddenly light filtered into the pod, something prying it open. The tendril that had been gripping her right wrist released her to attack the new threat, and with her hand free, Belle was able to rip the others away, squirming out of the pod to land in a heap on the floor, looking up to see Anthony, his teeth gritted with effort as he pried the pod open with his cane.
"Look out!" she shouted as the pod snapped at him, and he wedged his cane into its maw, forcing it open. "Where's the weed killer?"
She grabbed him, offering her support as they backed away from the writhing plant. His cane would only hold it for so long, and they needed to kill it now. "Shite!" he cursed viciously just as Belle saw the bags he must have dropped in his effort to save her, liquid pooling around them from what could only be broken bottles of weed killer.
The vines were reaching for them, and she lunged for the hedge shears Moe used when they got an order for a topiary. Moving in front of Anthony, she snapped off each vine as it approached them, but she was grossly outnumbered, and it was only a matter of time before she missed one. "Get out of here!" she yelled at him. The plant might eat her- she deserved it for the role she'd played in all of this- but she would not allow it to hurt Anthony. "Anthony, go!"
"Bugger that," he snapped, limping not toward the door but toward the counter and the back room, returning moments later with the gardening hose in hand which he opened full blast on the plant.
"What are you-?" she started to ask, snapping frantically at the vines before she suddenly realized what he was doing, "You're overwatering it!"
"Quite right, love," he agreed, sounding downright calm for a man being threatened by a man-eating plant, and if Belle hadn't loved him before, she would have at that.
Her arms ached and her skin stung from the places the plant was able to lash at her, but she kept going, and gradually the plant's movements began to slow. They were winning. "It's working!"
The plant slowed more, the vines coming to rest limply on the floor, and Belle let the shears drop, grateful for the chance to catch her breath. Anthony kept the hose turned on it, but she was starting to be optimistic that they'd actually won.
"I think we- Anthony!" she shouted a warning as the plant suddenly heaved itself toward him, using its vines to pull itself along the floor, heavy pot dragging behind it as the pod snapped through his cane, opening wide as Anthony took a step backwards, keeping the stream of water aimed at the plant.
"Run, Belle!" he snapped, not looking away from his opponent as the water pounded against the plant's roots, drowning it, but not quickly enough.
"I won't leave you!" she protested, searching for something, anything that she could use as a weapon. The only way to kill a plant was to attack its roots, and nothing they had was big enough to cut through the ball of root revealed as the plant continued to haul itself across the floor toward Anthony, leaving its pot behind as the soil in it turned to mud and loosed its grip, allowing it to move even faster.
She looked around desperately, her eyes lighting on the large puddle of weed killer, and an idea struck her at last. "Hey!" she yelled at the plant, lifting the shears and running her palm along the blade, opening up a deep gash.
Dropping the weapon, she moved closer to the plant, bloody hand outstretched. "Remember this? Remember how good it tasted? Come on, you know you want it. Eat me!"
"Belle, no!" Anthony bellowed, lunging forward as the plant rounded on her.
Belle danced backward as the plant advanced, orange maw gaping at her. "That's right, keep coming. Almost there," she coaxed, working hard not to slip as she stepped in the puddle of weed killer. She was so close.
The plant lurched forward, the pod grazing her hand and she jerked back, leading it the final few feet. She could tell the exact moment the plant's roots came to rest in the puddle of weed killer. It writhed, flailing its vines, and knocking her back into the glass window, the air leaving her lungs in a rush. An unearthly noise filled the shop like the hissing whistle of a giant steam kettle.
She shrieked as something grabbed her, nearly collapsing with relief when she saw that Anthony had staggered to her side, pulling her back, away from the twisting, hissing plant. It thrashed violently, smashing its vines through every window in the shop in its death throes, and Belle could almost feel sorry for it if it hadn't tried to kill her and the man she loved. He wrapped his handkerchief around her still-bleeding palm, and for the first time Belle felt the sting of her injury. She ignored it.
As Anthony put his arms around her, she rested her head against his chest, the pair of them holding each other up as they watched the plant's violent movements start to slow, its vines and leaves going dry and brown before their eyes. Even when it finally stopped moving altogether, Belle didn't draw an easy breath until she prodded the desiccated pod with the handle of a rake, the plant crumbling into dust at their feet.
The shop was a shambles, but what caught Belle's attention was the sight of Anthony's cane lying broken on the floor, snapped clean in half. "I'm sorry about your cane."
He muffled a vaguely hysterical laugh against her hair. "I'm more worried about your hand, love," he retorted, lifting her wrist to see how badly she'd bled through the silk handkerchief. "We should take you to the hospital."
Belle flexed her fingers and decided that no real damage had been done. "I just want to go home," she sighed, feeling suddenly exhausted.
"Home?" he asked, his intense gaze fixed on her.
"Home," she repeated, "With you."
His shoulders relaxed, and he kissed her forehead. "Let's go home, love."
Belle paused only long enough to gather the bags she'd packed earlier in the evening- what felt like a lifetime ago- and fish the shop's insurance policy out of the filing cabinet, leaving it for her father to find when he returned from the bar.
Leaning heavily on each other, they made their way to his car, Belle all but collapsing into the passenger seat. Although Mr. Gold's house was less than three miles from the florist shop, she was already half-asleep by the time they pulled into the driveway. "We're home, love," he prompted her, and her eyes flickered open as she smiled drowsily at the pink house that already felt more welcoming than her father's apartment ever had.
"Home," she repeated, leaning up for a soft kiss before they made it out of the car and up the walk. Climbing the steps onto the porch felt like scaling Everest but they managed it at last, and soon enough the front door closed behind them, shutting out the outside world and all of its threats.
A minute later, the door opened again, and a wilted philodendron was placed on the porch before the door was firmly locked behind it.