Skin Deep by DD Agent
I do not own Once Upon a Time or any of its characters, or its settings - all belongs to the lovely folks at ABC.
He could see Bae's body.
Rumpelstiltskin ran across the battlefield as fast as he could, which considering his bum leg was not a fast feat. He wasn't the only parent rushing to collect the bodies of their children - others he knew from the same village and from others across the river were coming to bring their children home. The Duke would have them burned, but Rumpelstiltskin couldn't allow that for his son. He couldn't allow him to be burned like rotten meat.
"Bae," he whispered as he finally reached his son. Blood was trickling out of the corner of his mouth and his tunic was soaked. Rumpelstiltskin held his son in his arms, trying to shake him back to life. But it was no use.
He looked around the scorched battlefield and cursed. The village had had a healer come through the week before, speaking of the legend of the Dark One and how he could grant them all their hopes, wishes, desires - all for something simple in return. They'd done the ritual, but he hadn't come. And now Bae was dead.
"Curse you, Dark One. Curse you."
He heard a snort, and looked up to see a young woman looking over the battlefield. She was of reasonable stature, wearing a rich cloak of green and a dress of blood red. Her brown curls caressed her shoulders, but her skin was as pale as the snow during winter. She had no place being on a battlefield. But, then, neither did his Bae.
She turned to him and Rumpelstiltskin felt something crawl over his skin. "You called?"
It couldn't be...her? "You're...you're the Dark One?"
The Dark One smiled. "Haven't you heard? Most evil comes in the guise of a beautiful woman."
Rumpelstiltskin couldn't comprehend what was going on. The Dark One, the most feared creature in all of the Enchanted Forest, was a woman and she was bloody late. Too late. "Well we want nothing more to do with you! You're late...everyone is dead." He turned back to his boy. His Bae.
"Always the same, every century. A little man with a desire to prove himself goes to war with the ogres." He looked up at her, and saw pain snarled all over her face. "And everyone dies."
Rumpelstiltskin looked down at his son. They said that the Dark One had unspeakable power, that he-she could do anything. He opened his mouth but found that she was already by his side, looking down at Bae with something he didn't expect to see. Compassion.
"I can't bring him back. No magic in the world can bring back the dead."
He nodded. It made sense. Otherwise they would be overrun with the walking dead like the stories that used to scare Bae at night. The ogres used to scare him as a boy, made him weak when it came to actually fighting them. He was a coward, he had done nothing and the battles kept happening. What were they on, the third Ogre War? Fourth? Even this one still wasn't over; more children's blood would be spilled by the end. More like Bae. No parent should ever have to lose their child.
"Could you...could you end this?" Rumpelstiltskin found himself asking. "Could you protect all the children?"
The Dark One placed a hand on Bae's forehead, closing his eyes. "I could. For a price."
"Anything." Rumpelstiltskin found himself calling out."Please, protect them. Because no one else will. End this war and I will do whatever you ask of me. I've got nothing left to lose; you could take my soul if you wanted to."
The woman's eyes gleamed and she stood back from him and Bae, brushing her dress down. She was truly beautiful, but there was a darkness there that he could see. He watched her tongue trace her upper lip as if thinking a deal over.
"I have a castle not far from these lands. The house needs tending, the grounds need keeping. If you were to work for me, then I will do what you ask."
Some gardening, dusting...he could do that. Hell, he'd build a castle from scratch just so he would feel like he hadn't failed his Bae. They should have run, but he had been so weak. So cowardly. His son was no coward, and now he was dead.
"Deal," Rumpelstiltskin whispered, holding his son close once more. He would save the other children from this war.
The Dark One smiled sadly. "Go. Bury your son. I will be back for you in three days when my end of our deal is complete."
Rumpelstiltskin nodded. It wasn't like he had anything to stay in the village for. The only thing he had was gone. Just as she turned away, he called out to her. "What do I call you? Or..." He bowed his head; no doubt he would be punished for such insolence. But he wanted to know. "Is the Dark One your title?"
Her eyes looked so sad, so dead. "My name, Rumpelstiltskin, is Belle. Belle LeFay."
He didn't ask how she knew his as she disappeared into the wind. He just held his son tight in his arms.
Jeremy Horder was getting his sports equipment out of his van. He ran a small sporting goods store just outside of the main town that had run into a bit of bad business over the cold winter. Still didn't change the fact that he was a week late on his loan, and that she could take what was rightfully hers.
"Mister Horder, I've been looking for you."
He looked up sharply, nearly banging his head on the bag of footballs he was carrying. He looked scared at the sight of her, and he should be. She wasn't someone to be messed with.
"Ms French...I'll have your money next week. The High School owes me a payment."
Belle waited patiently, digging her hands into her expensive jeans. She had decided to go a little casual today, it nearly being Valentine's Day and all. Her shoes were smart, good sized heel. Her blouse was cut across by a burgundy vest and a charcoal coat kept her warm. Which was a good thing as more and more people were defaulting on their loan and deciding to hide from her. She hadn't broken too many people's legs. She preferred Jefferson to snip off their fingers.
"The terms of the loan, Mister Horder, were fairly specific." She grinned and turned to Jefferson who was adjusting the scarf on his neck. "Weren't they, Mister Madison?"
He grinned at his boss. "I would say they weren't just specific, Ms French, they were fair."
Belle smiled at Jefferson before turning back to Mister Horder. "Well, if you don't have my money, then we'll have to take something else. Your van, for instance."
Horder rested a hand on the bonnet. "You can't! I have a shit ton of stock in this van!"
She couldn't really summon the energy to care. Turning to Jefferson, he knew what was coming. "Take the van, please Mister Madison. I need to return to my shop."
Jefferson did a brief little bow before spinning his customary bowler hat onto his head. Horder began to argue with him, but no one would take on Jefferson for very long. They found him creepy, sociopathic. That was one of the reasons why she kept him on. Without her magic, she was just all words. With Jefferson, she had a...presence.
Walking across the street, Belle could see Regina coming her way. The Mayor looked like she was walking with a purpose, and Belle could only imagine what that was. Perhaps something to do with the little blonde Sheriff who was stirring up trouble? Belle was enjoying that part of Storybrooke. She was growing tired of being without magic.
"Quite a little show you put on there, Ms French," Regina smiled.
Belle shrugged her shoulders. "Valentine's Day is only enjoyable if you have someone to spend it with." She watched Regina's jaw lock. She had killed her last pet. "For everyone else it's just another bad day."
"I was hoping we could talk about something."
Belle watched as Jefferson drove the van off with Horder screaming angrily behind him. Regina's gaze was distracted for a moment. As it should be - she left Jefferson to perish in Wonderland. If it wasn't for the Queen of Hearts wanting a favour from Belle, he would have been stuck in Wonderland instead of watching over her castle while she made deals.
"Maybe another time, yes?" Belle pulled her lips into a thin smile. "I have business to attend to." It was Tuesday. Tuesday was an important day.
Regina gripped Belle's wrist. The deal writer remembered when a young, scared princess had been looking for an escape, and for revenge. The summer before her marriage to King Leopold, Regina had been her apprentice. But power corrupts, and like Belle's former apprentice Cora, they had turned into something quite disgusting. At least Belle had always tried to remain a little human.
"We're going to talk about this now."
Belle scraped her nails against Regina's palm, digging into her hand. The Mayor cursed at the blood drawn, while Belle smirked. "Darling, if I want to talk to you, I'll talk to you. But I don't, so until I do, why don't you go back to trying to be the best Mayor you can be!" She stood up and pressed her mouth against Regina's ear. "Please."
With a jerk, Regina moved away from her, leaving her to walk back to her shop. Belle couldn't help the smirk over her mouth. It was Tuesday. Tuesday was an important day. Tuesday was new book day.
Belle French, former Belle LeFay of the Front Lands, always loved Tuesdays. Tuesday was new book day, and it was the one thing that brought her joy in this world. Apart from her friendship with Jefferson, although sometimes that felt more like something born out of necessity. After all, they were both pining for someone.
As Belle parked her mustang, she recalled the deal they had made when he had promised to help her get revenge on Regina. She would reunite him with his Grace. She would.
She walked up to her house, pulling her keys out of her pocket. She could see the box of books by the doorway - her entire house was lined with the things. She had always loved books; it was the one thing she had been determined to keep after her transformation into the Dark One. The fact that she shouldn't be able to see the books only hit her after a moment.
Someone had broken in. Again.
Pushing open the door gently, Belle looked around. So far no one was leaping out at her, which was a good sign. She wasn't a fan of guns, but she had a knife hidden at her back. Possibly not enough to scare off an attacker. There was a sabre lying next to a pile of books on fruit, and Belle picked it up. She weighed it in her hands and kept it down by her hip in case she needed to do any serious attacking.
People got freaked out if you pointed a sword at them.
Belle slowly walked around her home, trying to see if anything had been stolen. A few items were missing, and as she turned to her bureau she could see it was wide open. No, no, no!
There was a creak of the floorboards, and Belle turned on her heel, pointing the sabre at the intruder. She was faced with Sheriff Swan holding a gun at her head. The Sheriff dropped the gun to her hip, but Belle didn't relinquish her sword. She was too mad.
"Afternoon Sheriff. It seems someone's broken in."
Emma looked around, possibly not quite realising how Belle could tell. "Your neighbours reported a break in- French, is that a sword?"
Belle looked at the sword in her hand and smiled. "I'm a sucker for the classics."
The Sheriff just looked at her like she was crazy, which was possibly a fair assessment. Her bureau was where she kept her most important books, and it looked as if some of them had been taken. If they had...there would be repercussions.
She had come for him late on the third day, having given him plenty of time to bury his son. Giving her plenty of time to hold up her end of the bargain. The Ogre Wars were over; the children of the Front Lands were safe once again. In the distance she could hear the cheers and the parties; people would do anything to ignore the dead.
Belle turned around to see Rumpelstiltskin as they entered the main hall. He only carried a small sack of belongings, not much of anything really. He was tall, quite handsome if he would actually meet her eyes. His hair was tangled down to his shoulders, and his clothes were of poor quality. There was the staff he carried too - Belle had noticed a limp in his gait. Possibly not the most productive of groundskeepers, but there was something in him that Belle liked.
Possibly the fact that he was just as alone as she was.
"Big castle," he muttered.
Belle nodded. "It is. The grounds are quite extensive, bigger than the main house. They actually connect to the forest, like all good castles should." She brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "The castle is actually magic, so you should be careful."
Rumpelstiltskin nodded, meeting her eyes finally. They were a beautiful shade of brown. "I will, thank you milady."
That sounded odd to her hears. Belle observed him closely, the first company she had had in over three centuries. True company too - she didn't count Cora or Regina as they had been work. No one had really lived in this castle with the intention to stay since her father had been there. He had lived to see the end of the Ogre War, and thankfully had never seen the darkness growing in his daughter's heart. She thanked the gods every day for that.
"Is everything alright?"
Belle nodded, trying to get herself together. She was the Dark One, one of the most powerful creatures in all of the kingdoms. In all of the worlds. She shouldn't be thrown off by a spinner with an attractive accent. And a good heart.
That was a rarity in itself.
"I'm just trying to decide what room to place you in."
Rumpelstiltskin bowed his head. "Lady Belle...I've slept on a straw bed all my life. I'll quite happily sleep in the dungeon. No need to go to any trouble."
For that, Belle decided to give him the best room in the castle. "Follow me."
He tried to keep up, and eventually Belle pushed open one of the doors with a red cross emblazoned on it. He followed her through and ended up on the top floor of the castle. He could see the ocean through one of the windows at the end of the hall.
Belle smiled at the spinner. "The castle is enchanted. Centuries of magic inside the walls." She watched his eyes light up. She remembered when she had thought that way about magic. "All the doors with red crosses on them will take you up and down floors. Just be careful, they sometimes take you to the garden."
Rumpelstiltskin nodded. Poor thing, she was really throwing him in at the deep end. As they walked to what would be his room, Belle used her magic to pack up all the belongings in there and shift them to her room just along the corridor. She had been meaning to sort through her father's things a century ago, but had never got around to it. Now, as someone was finally sharing the castle with her, it seemed like a good time. Eventually they reached the door and she opened it with a click of her fingers.
Which was really just to show off.
Rumpelstiltskin poked his head around the door and his face lit up. But it immediately came crashing down. He was still grieving his son and she could only imagine how torn he was over his new home. Belle didn't know what she could to do alleviate that loss - she had tried all the potions in the world to get rid of grief but like true love it was hard to contain.
She watched him put the bag down on the bed and run his hand down the cotton sheets. Belle had to admit that she liked seeing him smile.
"Thank you," he whispered, turning to her. "Thank you for your kindness."
It had been a long time since someone had called her 'kind'. It had been a long time since someone had smiled at her without malice behind it. Belle found it unsettling.
Shrugging off his sentiments, Belle turned to him. "The library is one floor down and is the large room overlooking the ocean. In one hour, I would like you to serve me tea there...the kitchen is on the ground floor, just off the grand hall."
Without a word she swept out of his room and headed to her sanctuary. It had been a mistake to give him a room so precious. But Belle wanted to see it be used again, to see something come of this castle. And she certainly wasn't going to give him Gaston's room. Not after what he had done to her.