Five Things (We Could Have Done)

(we could have run)


Crescent

Here is the tower. See the missing crescent where the ogres chewed through.

Here is the crescent. It makes a window now. A window to the moon.

Here is the moon. Not, at this time, a crescent.

Here is the moonlight. It falls on the face of a woman, seated in the crescent. When the wind blows, she feels her tower sway.

Here are the burns, the scars, the agony marks and mating calls of firebrands and magics on her face. Her body is clean. Because she did not. Because she had not. "Marriage," she'd whispered, so they destroyed only the thing that destroyed them.

Here is her opening. She has not been eating, but she hides the food so well, her captors do not realize. She shrinks smaller with every passing day.

Here is the woman, slim as a sideways, smiling moon. See her stand, place her toes with determination in the cracks of the wound in her wall. See her press her way out, a child being born; head, neck—shoulders a struggle, the bread she broke and ate—waist, thighs, calves, feet.

Here is the wind.

Here is the world.

See the two of them meet.

See the girl hold her head high, her back straight. The merchant-king's daughter, even now. See how she does not flinch, but steps forward, and walks into the sky.

Here is the girl who decides her own fate. See her kiss the earth, curled on her side.

A crescent, if you will.

Two

Gold eases his front door shut behind him, balances his travel mug in the crook of one elbow and turns to lock the door. He reaches the cobbled pathway, halfway to the car, before he hears the lock slap back open and the front door swing wide. He looks back.

His wife barrels barefoot through the door, down the path, her robe and hair flowing like a wave behind her. She is grinning.

"Wait!" she says.

"What have I forgotten this time?" His smile is a secret. (The secret is a kiss.)

"Give me your hand," she says, though she's already seized it, pressed it high and to the right of her happily swollen belly.

Inside, a tiny fist punches him. Then a foot. It is the most enjoyable beating he has ever received. His ribcage swells. The sky swallows him. The world (the whole world) rests beneath his palm.

"She kicked," he whispers, and the words are so simple, but somehow they trip and tangle. "Her first kick?"

(Whenever did the world become so small?)

Belle twines her fingers around his tie. She pulls him in and steals the secret in the corner of his mouth.

"Third," she whispers against his chin. She smells of toothpaste and warm skin. "An auspicious number."

Letters

One day, Belle eyes him over the rim of her teacup and asks, "Has no one written to me while I've been here?"

Rumpelstiltskin looks up from where he is charming sugar cubes to dance. He tilts his head to one side, as if thinking.

There has been precisely one letter. It preceded the wilting flower on the table by a matter of days, spelled out intent and time and ended with all my love, my sweetest rose. Gave him just enough time, while we're on the subject of time, to simmer up an… appropriate spell.

What a considerate young idiot that one had been.

"No," he says, and flicks a sugar cube. It sails across the room, tiny naked legs kicking all the way.

Belle shakes her head, and it's meant to be admonishment, but she's laughing. "I'll have to find that now, thanks very much. And you know it'll run off. I'll be on my hands and knees for hours."

Yes. And oh, what a view.

Rumpelstiltskin grins and flicks another two.

Ham, Rye, Possibly Pickle

When Rumpelstiltskin closes his eyes, he sees tangles upon tangles of bitter gold thread. It doesn't do anything at all for the pounding in his skull. Something's knocking around in there, rearranging the furniture, generally making a rather inconvenient nuisance itself.

Another vision, probably. Or some hairy old wretch of a wizard brewing curses for chosen children somewhere in the arsehole of the world. He'll get to it when he gets to it, thank you very much. Rumpelstiltskin is building a curse of his own at the moment—to spec, by request—very important nonsense and all that. Something about coastal Maine, free will, and a horrid bunch of kissing.

He lifts a hand to rub his aching eyes. When he opens them—searing, acrid daylight has somehow gotten all over his nice dark library! And where his book had been the moment before, Rumpelstiltskin now finds a blue skirt and a ham sandwich.

"Interesting new approach to polishing the tables, Belle. Credit where it's due, and all that. But you'll find I'm actually quite busy at the moment, so if you wouldn't mind, please...?"

She doesn't move. Rumpelstiltskin purses his lips, spreads his fingers, flicks a few sparks at her for better effect.

The girl isn't cowed. She never is.

And he really should see about that, too, but something goes funny in his stomach whenever she frowns at him—all concern and baby blues and that wee little wrinkle above her nose—and all his thoughts fall away like birds in a storm. Petals from a rose. Wind from the willows.

What had he been doing?

"You're going to eat this," Belle says, as though she's not being utterly irrational, and holds out the plate. "You've not eaten all day—nor yesterday either, I suspect. If this is what comes from leaving you to your own devices, I won't have it."

He smiles, grins with all his very-very sharp teeth and leans forward. "I don't recall… that being a term of our agreement, dearie."

Belle plants her foot firmly between his legs and shoves the chair back across the floor. One moment he is at his table, the next he is an oh-so-lovely stockings' length away.

"Eat."

It is really hard to argue with such a strategically placed boot.

He eats.

Things that Burn

Belle sleeps in the belly of the earth. Where he slept once. The space is the same. Changed, but not different. She can still smell sweat, unwashed leather.

And magic, magic, magic—thick and fat and heady like a headache. And she'd been told, once upon a time, that he'd died. She'd been told he touched a finger to the so-sharp tip of his spinning wheel and fell asleep for a thousand years. She'd been told he drank poison, ate curses, cut himself on the name of his knife.

She'd been told he'd forgotten her, that he did not care, that he did not love her. She'd been told things that hurt—he knows; he does nothing. She'd overhead things that didn't—I don't understand, Maleficent. Why won't he break?

And somewhere along the way, Belle had learned how to listen.

The cage is the same, the prisoner different.

The earth speaks, but it is heavy and old. It carries a tongue made of rocks and dead heroes, sleeping dragons, the end of a thousand stories that never were. So Belle sits on her cot, with her knees to her chest, and she listens to the spells winding through the earth. Listens and listens until she knows all the words.

Listens and listens until she mines the memories from a dragon's heart.

Listens and listens until she swallows its heat.

Listens and listens until she speaks her hands into claws, her nails into diamonds, her name into ice.

Listens and listens until she loses her voice, for the words that she speaks are so huge and so old they fill her body like an earthquake, a flood, a fire, a famine—and her tongue must be careful, for when she opens her mouth, she cracks down the seams.

Listens and listens until one day, when the evil queen (no longer queen) comes to peer through the window of her prison (she remembers—once, it was a crescent), Belle opens her mouth—

—and the world—

shatters

—down.

And she walks through the stones like stardust.

Her feet find the path her heart knows.