"A Necessary Evil"
(Dedicated to all the Gaston fangirls out there, but especially to Klaske, the recipient of this fic. As always, Gaston belongs to Disney, but we wish he belonged to us. With respect and admiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest, as well.)
At least he didn't have to go to the village healer, but this was almost as bad.
Gaston de Valois, hunter par excellence, groaned and wiped the sleep from his eyes. The sun was an hour over the horizon already. Three mornings had come and gone, and three mornings he'd told himself he'd wait until the next day. He couldn't put it off any longer. The deer, geese and boar would just have to wait another day to be turned into trophies.
At least no one has to see me. Even Lefou won't be by for another hour or two…and I can just sneak out the back. Be a man.
Like a big cat, Gaston stretched, muscles rippling under his well-tanned skin. He never slept in more than a pair of leggings. In this mid-July heat, even that was impractical. All the more reason to keep his body at the pinnacle of perfection, so Belle, in his bed, could one day appreciate his…
Cock a doodle doo! came the rooster's impatient cry just outside.
"Yeah, yeah. Next time you wake me up before sunrise, it's the stew pot for you," Gaston growled under his breath. He grabbed yesterday's tunic from the chair beside his bed and pulled it over his powerful torso. His leather leggings, belt, baldric and quiver followed. His favorite boots went over socks with more than a few holes in them. Just another reason to get married as quickly as possible. Who had time to bother with silly things like mending socks, anyway? That's what wives did. A man like him would be too busy hunting, fishing, drinking, and providing for his family.
Family. Pretty soon, that'll be a reality. The de Valois family chalet had been empty and silent for so long, ever since Cristophe, Gaston's father, had died five years ago. Gaston couldn't wait to pass on his father's legacy to a bevy of sons. Never cheat at cards, or at least get caught. In a fight, always throw the first punch, and hard. Wait until you see the whites of a deer's eyes to shoot. Take your wife like you mean business.
And there was that other thing, the thing he had to get out of the way. Well, Dad did bag more than half those trophies at the tavern. He must've had a good reason for this silly routine.
Despite where he was going today, Gaston never left home unarmed. He slung a longbow over one shoulder and slipped his dagger, freshly sharpened, into its sheath. Just about ready. There was always one more important thing to do. In front of his ornate oval bedroom mirror, he scooped a dab of scented pomade from its container, slicked his black hair back, and tied it with a scarlet ribbon. Satisfied, he flashed his blinding smile to his reflection. Perfect. Just because no one was going to see you was no excuse to look less than magnificent. So now…time to go. Maybe if he were lucky, he'd be home within the hour, and today wouldn't be a waste after all.
Gaston opened the kitchen door, did a quick scan to ensure no one was watching him, and slipped quiet as a sigh into the woods.
He already knew where he was going. The village of Ste.-Eulalie behind him was just starting to wake, and no farmer or shepherd came on this narrow game trail anyhow. Gaston enjoyed the scents of the forest even on a day like this: the faint traces of game, fresh evergreens, sweet wildflowers. Maybe Belle could use some of those daisies. Didn't girls like flowers? He grinned to himself. And if they're from me, even better.
The thought had almost put Gaston in a better mood. Then he remembered again what he was doing here in the first place.
A faint sound reached his well-trained ear. Not the rustle of a deer's hooves in the underlayer, or a game bird searching for rood, although he would have heard those just as easily.
It was the sound of bubbling water.
It really wasn't too bad, once he got used to the sensation of warm water on equally hot, sweaty skin. Even the slightly effervescent water itself was, in its own way, pleasant. It was the thought of leaving his longbow and garb in the nearby bushes that was the problem. Being defenseless, as it were. I gotta admit, though…what would Belle say if she ever saw me like this? A wicked grin crossed his lips. Patience, big guy. All in good time.
Gaston eased himself into the thermal spring. It was one of several in the woods only he knew about, but this was the only one big enough to hold a man his size. The rest were just spigots coming from somewhere deep in the ground.
"Aaah…must work on getting the temperature fixed on this thing," Gaston muttered. Probably just the fact that it was July, but the water seemed almost boiling today. He stretched out, indulging for a moment, and untied his long hair to let it soak with the rest of him. The soaking was the easy part; it was almost this side of tolerable. Taking a deep breath, he submerged for a minute, then resurfaced.
Cristophe de Valois had always told his son to bathe once a month, whether he needed it or not. Any buck worth his salt would smell you coming if you didn't. And besides, Gaston suddenly remembered his father saying smugly, your wife will thank you for it too. Then that sly wink. He'd never really known what his father meant by that growing up. Now he was pretty sure he knew.
There was a man in Ste.-Eulalie who sold soap, a smelly concoction made of pig lard, lye, and other evil substances. Gaston wouldn't go near that stuff. Instead, he followed another of his father's old recipes. Along the damp sides of the spring was a nice layer of mud, still glistening with moisture. With each hand, he scooped a handful of the stuff and began to slather it all over his muscular body. All-natural, and good for the skin, too. If this is what it takes to keep my complexion looking perfect, I suppose it's worth it.
"Okay…gotta finish, now…"
Discontent to leave the warm water now that his body had adjusted, Gaston arose to his full six feet four inches. A few more handfuls of mud went over his well-toned abdomen, powerful legs, even down to his feet. Only his bright blue eyes and sleek black hair remained uncovered by the stuff. He held his breath in check, like a proud stallion asked to walk instead of gallop. To think, that once a month, he was the Creature from the Brown Lagoon instead of magnificent, perfect, astonishingly handsome Gaston…He shuddered. Ten minutes, tops. Then he could rinse, dunk, go home, and get back to being gorgeous.
He scowled, not seeing the three pairs of green eyes gazing at him from the cover of the forest.
"Get down! I can't see a thing!"
"I can. You don't know what you're missing."
"Give me that!"
Three soprano voices squabbled, each trying to grab the brass telescope currently held by the one of them in a red dress.
"How'd you get so lucky, anyway, Marcelle?" pouted one of the others, clad in green.
"Yeah, how? Gaston doesn't like to be followed out here," chimed in the third, a gold dress clinging to her curvy body.
"I told you, it was easy. Just a few beers, a few flirtatious words with Lefou, and he'll tell you anything you want to know about Gaston," Marcelle said glibly. "It's worth a few minutes with the little rat, don't you think?" She sighed. "Will you look at his…"
"Duck!" shrieked Melisande, the girl in green, and all three fell to the ground. "I think he sees us."
Musette, the third sister, smirked. "Who cares? Isn't that why we came out here? Even without anything on but mud, he's amazing." She looked ready to swoon.
Marcelle picked her telescope up again. "Okay, girls, we're on. Who drew the short straw this time?"
A grunt and a sigh. "Me," admitted Musette. But her lips were curled in a smile nonetheless.
"All right; you know what to do. You gotta be quick. This will be fun," giggled Melisande.
"Just call me Miss Lightning Fast…"
The mud had hardened into a second skin. That was the easy part. The worst part was always getting it off. Gaston winced. Even for someone like him, who'd had a separated shoulder, impaled accidentally with an arrow, that unfortunate incident with the bear trap…this was torture. What did Dad say? Quick as you can, in one motion. Like one of those quickie bandages Mom used to make.
His head snapped up as he heard the footsteps. Too clumsy to be deer, too heavy to be boar, much too quick for a small bear. And bears didn't giggle, or wear slippers on their feet.
"Come out! I can hear you," shouted Gaston, grabbing at his waist for the hunting knife that wasn't there.
"We'll come out. But look what we've got," came one of three voices he knew all too well. He could see his red tunic being waved about like a victory flag. "If you want them, you know where to come get them!" teased the voice. Gaston heard the sounds of three pairs of slipper-clad feet hurrying away and the giggles their wearers made.
What would Dad say if he could see me now? A good mile from home, no clothes, covered from head to foot in mud, no weapons, and three girls who just made a horse's ass out of you?
"Son of a bitch!" Gaston stomped his feet in vain, blood coursing through his veins in anger. Even that didn't make the mud fall off. Dad, I hope you're happy now.
Like a beast from the netherworld, he sprinted after his quarry. They wouldn't like it once he caught up to them.
"Hmmm." Barely looking up from the pages of The Tempest, Belle sipped at the persimmon tea she'd made. Papa never touched it, but for her it was a special treat. And today was Monday. No chores, no errands, just a day to read. Travel to a mystical island with the exiled Duke Prospero of Milan, Miranda, Ariel…
As she raised the cup to her lips for another sip of tea, the mud monster streaked past her, legs pumping powerfully and black hair trailing behind. The next moment it was gone. The little cup fell from her hand and shattered almost soundlessly.
"Caliban?" Belle whispered. She quickly thumbed to the previous page, from act II:
All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
By inch-mail a disease! his spirits hear me,
And yet I needs must curse. But they'll nor pinch,
Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i' the mire,
Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark
Out of my way, unless he bid 'em: but
For every trifle are they set upon me;
Sometimes like apes, that mow and chatter at me,
And after bite me; then like hedgehogs, which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way, and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.
Maybe Papa is right. Maybe sometimes I need to get out a little more. I'm starting to actually see the action in my stories…and not in a good way.
Smiling privately, Belle closed the well-worn book and gathered her skirt. Maybe today wasn't such a bad day for chores after all.
And I think I could use a bath. It's getting sticky out here.