This one was not a prompt. This one is a thank-you for my freshly minted 100 followers. All of you are lovely people.
And, I would just like to point out, that I can do Happily Ever Afters sometimes.
Love, About Forever
Rumpelstiltskin pretends that nothing has happened. Belle is all too aware that everything has changed.
Every glance is fraught with unspoken attraction, every touch a searing heat. One morning over tea, she says, "I love you," without thinking, and it starts a shouting match—the results of which leave her with a sulking lover, a smashed tea kettle, a pile of bent and dented silverware, and a tomato stain on the rug. Presumably to clean up.
Belle leaves it there. She also vows not to say, "I love you" again.
Though, that is not at all to say she lets Rumpelstiltskin off the hook so easily.
(If there's one thing Belle knows, it's her way around words.)
In a middling sort of afternoon, she finds him sorting through the library, one leg braced against a ladder he isn't using. Belle sets her book down on a table, rises, crosses the room and slips easily beneath his arms. She tugs him close, head tucked beneath his chin and he humors her, she thinks. Strokes her hair, in any case, but she feels the muscles so tense in his arms, the way he leans ever so slightly away from her. Ready to run.
She wants to punch something—whatever it was that made him this way—but doesn't know where to start.
So she runs her fingers down his chest instead, hums and murmurs, "I love this vest," leaving enough space between love and this to really feel his shoulders clench. "Pelts of children, no doubt?"
And then she turns, retrieves her book, and curls up on the couch.
Belle feels his eyes on her for a long while after—gauging, but she has spent her life stared at. She smiles and keeps reading.
The next night, at supper, she recognizes the silver set as the one she'd thought he'd well destroyed. Magic can do much, apparently. She wonders, if she searches, if she'll find a book of Rumpelstiltskin's with a spell to make him talk.
He sits at the head of the table, an island to himself, though she is not quite an arm's length away. For mischief's sake, Belle nudges everything out of his reach. He is then so very, very careful not to touch her when she passes anything down.
"Are you truly happy here, then?" he asks, when she has given up hope that he will speak at all tonight.
Belle smiles. Deliberately, she reaches out, touches the back of his hand.
"A library full of books, quiet, and good company? I love it here."
Again, he is so very, very careful, but Belle catches his flinch. She wonders if perhaps she is being cruel, telling him, "I love, I love, I love," until perhaps the message might sink in. Until he can tolerate the word, he will never accept the thing itself, but still. The thought unnerves her, unsettles her stomach. For a long moment, she says nothing else.
Rumpelstiltskin rallies, though. He straightens his shoulders, ventures, so gently, "No doubt your father misses you."
"No doubt," she says and nods. "I must be sure to write him again, soon."
Rumpelstiltskin avoids her gaze. He hides his eyes in the petals of the rose near her elbow, oddly long-lived.
"And your would-be suitor," he adds.
"Oh, no." As suddenly as they came, the butterflies disappear. Belle laughs. "The wedding plans gave the poor man migraines. I suspect he would have enjoyed fighting for my honor, though."
Rumpelstiltskin's eyes dart from the rose, then back again like thieves.
"Yes. Well, he does seem the type to get himself killed in a pointless duel with a creature far more powerful than himself."
In the five months she has lived with him, Belle has seen this look of his exactly twice before. Once, when he'd set himself on fire and pretended he'd meant to. The second time, when he'd walked into her dungeon while she changed. He'd not done either since.
Also, he'd learned how to knock.
Belle levels a stern look. "What did you do?"
"Me?" Abruptly, he is himself. A hand flutters to his chest, his face a mask of exaggerated outrage. "I'm shocked. My own Belle accusing me of some heinous—"
"There was no woman selling flowers, was there?"
She also knows him well enough by now to expect at least half his spells to be little better than boyish mischief. More than once, when bored, he's built mice out of mashed-potatoes and sent them skittering across the floor.
Tonight, under her pointed stare, Rumpelstiltskin sighs the sigh of a man who shoulders the world and clicks his fingers.
Then, of course, the sodding rotten bastard swans ever so cheerfully out, leaving her to manage with a pile of dirty dishes, and her bewildered former fiancé on top.
After a hot meal and a good night's sleep, Gaston is much himself again. Belle sends him on his way. She walks with him as far as the next village, spends the duration of their journey assuring him that she is safe and she is happy and that no, Gaston absolutely must refrain—no exceptions, not even one—from attempting to spirit her away.
When she returns to the castle, Belle (lovingly) deposits a moldy, mashed-potato mouse, still twitching, in Rumpelstiltskin's bed.
Another day, another week, when he is working at the wheel, Belle sits beside him, watching. At first, his shoulders tense. She sees his knee shift beneath the leather, bob ever so slightly down and ready for retreat.
"Don't mind me," she says. "I love watching you work. You have lovely hands."
She smiles. "What?"
"You know." He glares at the straw in his hands.
"My apologies," she says. "I will endeavor to enjoy your company less."
Spring again and all the windows are open, Rumpelstiltskin at his alchemy lab, springing from one table to the next with tongs and heavy gloves. His breeches are a softer sort of cloth, today, and Belle does wonder at the change. He has worn little else than leather for a great many weeks, but the view is no less pleasing.
So pleasing, in fact, she reads the same paragraph three times and doesn't realize until he sets a bottle down and snaps, "What, exactly, are you doing, dearie?"
Her eyes fly up to meet his, color rising in her cheeks. She had not meant to stare. Well, no, what with the view, of course she'd meant to stare. She just hadn't meant to be caught.
Rumpelstiltskin glares, but Belle offers up a smile. She has planned wars with her father. This man is no greater challenge than turning ogres away from their eastern front.
"Oh, I'm reading the best story about Gertha the Bold," she says and lifts the cover high so he can see. "She's just found a dragon's den in the Western mountains. I'm not… bothering you, am I? I do try to keep out of the way, it's just that I love—"
"To watch me work. I know."
"—listening to you hum."
His eyes narrow. "What?"
"You hum," Belle says, gazing up at him through lowered lashes. This trick has worked on rival princes several times before. "When you're concentrating. The last one was an old drinking song."
He eyes her.
"I do not hum."
"Of course not."
Belle resettles on the black leather chair they both pretend he has not brought in here especially for her, and returns to Gertha wandering the Hives. Distantly, while Gertha attempts to work a golden ring from the hatchling nest, she hears Rumpelstiltskin set back to work.
He hums. Catches himself, stops.
Immediately, Rumpel spins, tongs viciously extended and waggling at the door.
Belle rises, but smiles—so sweetly. "Terms of our agreement did stipulate I'd go with you forever."
He hefts a bowl full of something blue and steaming. "Would you like to find out what this does?"
"After what you put in it? Not particularly."
He points again. "Out."
This time, laughing, Belle goes.
Rumpelstiltskin leaves unexpectedly, often, sometimes for days at a time.
Belle knows this. Over the year now she's spent with him, it's become routine. And several times, of course, she's asked him to warn her before he goes. She wants to make sure he remembers to eat, if nothing else. Whatever he says, he does forget—but those discussions always end with, "Our agreement stipulated only caretaker, dearie—of the estate. Not me." And lately, she has not had the heart to argue it.
She wishes perhaps she had. This time, he has been gone for a full week and then some. More than long enough for her to worry. Belle finds herself idling past the windows, walking the grounds—simply to stare down the drive.
So of course, when Rumpelstiltskin finally comes home, it is while she's setting out the things for tea. One moment he is not there, the next he simply is.
He announces, "I've just been to Guilder." And he grins.
As if she has been sleeping well at night, unworried, Belle says, "Guilder? Whatever took you there?"
"Oh, this and that, dearie." He prowls around table, closer, just close enough to touch. "I've brought you a gift," he says, and this sounds almost like a question.
Belle smiles. "What did you—" and stops short, seeing him pull a delicate paper box from behind his back.
Somewhere distant, she knows she looks an awed child, clasped hands and widened eyes, but her chest swells and her eyes feel too bright. Of all things, he's brought her a memory. She mentioned this once, only once—the chocolates her mother had kept on her bedside before she died, never to be had ever after again—and here, he has remembered.
A fragment of her childhood, and he has remembered.
"Guilderian chocolates," she breathes. "Oh, you beautiful man. I love these."
"So I gather." He will not look her in the eyes. His eyes are on her hands as she takes the box like a sleeping child. "You've been rather insistent with your… love. Of late."
Belle smiles. He is home and here—with chocolates, of all things—and it seems she will never stop smiling.
"Well, you certainly didn't have to go all the way to Guilder for me."
He ducks his head, turns his eyes. Shuffles his weight from one leg to the other.
And Belle watches him thinking, this—this is the monster the whole land fears.
A maker of mashed potato mice. A bringer of chocolates. Bashful.
"I've been thinking," he says, and she sets the box down on the table.
"I could. Possibly."
Belle swallows. She busies herself with the tea things, setting out their cups. "Possibly?"
And Rumpelstiltskin glares, but she has spent a year with him, and she knows his venom isn't in it.
"You certainly don't make this easy, do you?"
"I'm sure I haven't the faintest what you're on about. Tea?" she offers and lifts the pot. "It should have finished steeping by now."
He looks at the table, as if seeing her tray for the first time, watching as she pours first one cup and then the other.
"How did you know I was coming home?" he asks.
Belle shrugs. "I didn't."
"There are two cups." He points at the teacup with the chipped rim. "My cup. And I know you hate it. Why ever have you brought it out?"
She hands him his tea—chipped cup, no milk, ungodly heaps of sugar—and shrugs.
"I set for two every day," she says. "Just in case."
Unaccountably, it is this, of all things, that seems to take his breath away. Slowly, he sits, as if his legs have stopped working.
"You were waiting," he says. His voice sounds as though he's swallowed stones
She nods. "Yes."
"You'll shout if I tell you."
His eyes dart away, to her, and away. He fiddles the hem of his sleeves. Sips his tea. Anything, she thinks, to busy his hands.
"I might not," he ventures, after some short time has passed.
"Mm." Belle sips her tea. "I'll not risk it."
"I might… go so far as to return the sentiment."
"I can't imagine why you would," she says, gazing out the window, idly warming her hands on her cup—and very well, yes, she is the tiniest bit bitter. She has had her heart half-broken before. "As I remember, there was quite a lot of shaking involved last time you divulged your opinion on the matter."
"I was—" he stops. Breathes. Starts again. "I was frightened. I'm sorry. "
Belle sets her teacup down. Butterflies dance their wings beneath her breast.
"It was never my intention to upset you."
"No matter." He smiles. Tries to wave it off, but hides his hand soon after. She thinks he must be shaking. "You were only doing what you thought best. Trying to save the beast, and all that."
"Trying to save you," she amends. She wonders if she could touch him, if she tried. "But I am sorry. I never meant to… worry you."
He snorts. Abruptly, he flicks a series of sparks from his fingers and sugar cubes go dancing down the table. Across the room, a clock starts to dance with a silver candlestick.
"Aren't we a maudlin pair? Do you know, I practiced the whole way home how I'd tell you I love you, and here you apologize before I can even get the right words out."
Belle finds she must remind herself to breathe. The butterflies are birds now, wings thudding drumbeats in her throat.
"I'm sorry," she says. "Would you like to start again?"
He half-smiles, shy and dear.
"Yes." And then, so gently. "I love you, Belle."
She has dreamed of this. She has dreamed of dungeons and wars and, absurdly, arguments on stairwells, and she had thought, until this moment, that she had been prepared.
"I love you, too," Belle whispers and her voice breaks, her throattoo thick with wings and hope to speak.
And Rumpelstiltskin grins. He looks like a man who has unexpectedly found everything he's ever wanted packaged neatly on his doorstep—ecstatic and hopeful and whole in a way she had not known she longed for.
"Well that's settled." He slaps his hands down on the table and rises. "I expect you'll be wanting a ring, then?"
Belle can't breathe. She certainly can't speak. Rumpelstiltskin has lost his mind. He has gone utterly out of his head, but he loves her—he loves her—and she is too enamored with the sight of him so happy to care.
Eventually, she manages. "A ring?"
And he laughs.
"I seem to remember a certain promise," he says. "Something about forever? Surely you recall."
"Happily ever after?" Belle asks.
"Yeah. That'll be the one."